December 31, 2009

It Bears Repeating

It's hard not to feel like a broken record. Keep reading and writing about these same issues over and over and over again. But that's because they are so important, and they bear repeating.

And it seems, miraculously, that those in a position to help to improve the situation on a more global scale -- that is, members of Congress and in the federal and state agencies that oversee areas like agriculture and food safety -- appear to be finally paying some attention. We'll see, however, how long that lasts.

To the news. First, this excellent article from the Associated Press about the overwhelming use of antibiotics in agriculture and how it is significantly exacerbating the problem of antibiotic resistance in humans.

Researchers say the overuse of antibiotics in humans and animals has led to a plague of drug-resistant infections that killed more than 65,000 people in the U.S. last year — more than prostate and breast cancer combined. And in a nation that used about 35 million pounds of antibiotics last year, 70 percent of the drugs went to pigs, chickens and cows. (emphasis added) Worldwide, it's 50 percent.

"This is a living breathing problem, it's the big bad wolf and it's knocking at our door," said Dr. Vance Fowler, an infectious disease specialist at Duke University. "It's here. It's arrived."

And we're actually hearing the right things from those in a position to affect some change!

"If we're not careful with antibiotics and the programs to administer them, we're going to be in a post antibiotic era," said Dr. Thomas Frieden, who was tapped to lead the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this year.

Also this year, the three federal agencies tasked with protecting public health — the Food and Drug Administration, CDC and U.S. Department of Agriculture — declared drug-resistant diseases stemming from antibiotic use in animals a "serious emerging concern." And FDA deputy commissioner Dr. Joshua Sharfstein told Congress this summer that farmers need to stop feeding antibiotics to healthy farm animals.

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