The routine use of antibiotics on livestock leads to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can impact humans. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NDRC), in 2010, “almost 52 percent of chicken breasts tested were contaminated with antibiotic-resistant E. coli.” The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports that farm animals consume 80 percent of all antibiotics— and, in order to promote rapid growth, healthy animals often receive unnecessary antibiotics.
The overuse of antibiotics results in high costs for consumers who become sick from antibiotic-resistant bacteria. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), excess healthcare costs in the U.S. from antibiotic resistance are estimated at US$20 billion annually. People spent an additional 8 million days in the hospital due to these infections in 2011. The CDC estimates other societal costs, such as lost wages from extra days spent in the hospital and premature deaths, at US$35 billion in 2011.
In the U.S., at least 2 million people become infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria every year, according to the CDC. And 23,000 people die every year as a direct result of those infections, with many more dying from complications. Because of these exorbitant costs and serious public health risks, there is a national movement to end the use of sub-therapeutic antibiotics in agricultural production.
Food Tank is highlighting 20 organizations working to preserve clinically important antibiotics for medical treatment:
AWA is a food label for animal products that guarantees the highest animal welfare and environmental standards. The organization, founded in 2006, requires its farmers to avoid the routine use of antibiotics for healthy animals and supports small farmers in providing animals with access to pasture.
By petitioning retailers to stop selling factory-farmed meat raised with antibiotics, the Center For Food Safety hopes to create substantial change by mobilizing consumers. The organization also raises awareness of antibiotic use in agriculture through articles and blogs on its website.
CLF contributes to peer-reviewed research on the subject of industrial animal production and advocates for preserving the use of antibiotics for medical treatment. Center-supported research using industry data has demonstrated that the use of antibiotics for growth promotion in poultry is not cost-effective.
The CSPI Antibiotic Resistance Project aims to educate consumers and provide action items for concerned citizens. The project has formed a Keep Antibiotics Working coalition to advocate for purchasing shifts and for policies that restrict sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics.
5. Environmental Working Group (EWG)
EWG analyzes the latest government data on antimicrobial use and consumer trends. In 2013, the group published the “Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change and Health,” which included a full report on meat and superbugs. The group continues to advocate for more responsible use of antimicrobials and the phasing out of antibiotics in animal feed.
Food and Water Watch’s Campaign to Save Antibiotics tracks successful resolutions passed and involves local communities in advocating for changes in the use of antibiotics. Concerned consumers can engage through the group’s website by signing a petition to save antibiotics and by keeping up with blog posts on the subject.
Formed in 2012, Food Policy Action informs citizens on the votes of elected officials and publishes scorecards related to food policy. The group publicizes bills that relate to antibiotics in agriculture and circulates a petition urging the U.S. Congress to keep antibiotics out of meat.
FOE published a “Guide to Avoiding Factory-Farmed Meat and Dairy” to help consumers around the world choose products raised without antibiotics. The FOE Good Food Campaign seeks to educate consumers on antimicrobial resistance and the problems associated with using antibiotics in industrial animal feeds.
9. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)
HSUS has advocated for banning the use of sub-therapeutic antibiotics in agriculture on animal welfare grounds, issuing a report on human health implications of this practice and publishing relevant statistics.
10. Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP)
IATP’s Healthy Food Action program is a national network of health professionals that works to disseminate knowledge and advocate for a more sustainable food system. Seven hundred and ninety-five health professionals from Healthy Food Action and Health Care Without Harm recently sent a letter to President Obama, urging the White House to jumpstart the FDA on the issue of antibiotics in agriculture.
11. Keep Antibiotics Working (KAW)
KAW is a coalition of health, consumer, agricultural, environmental, humane, and other advocacy groups working to eliminate the inappropriate use of antibiotics in food animal production. The KAW campaign publishes resources for consumers and works to spread the word on antimicrobial resistance.
12. Meatless Monday
Meatless Monday not only urges consumers worldwide to reduce consumption of meat on one day per week, but also advocates for sustainable choices, including the purchase of antibiotic-free chicken and beef. The organization publicizes successful purchasing shifts and reveals the true costs behind cheap meat raised with antibiotics.
China’s National Antibacterial Resistance Investigation Net (NARIN) estimates that animals consume almost half of the 210,000 tons of antibiotics produced in China, and that this proportion is on the rise. The government agency is campaigning to impose stricter limits on antibiotic use in agriculture to stop the rampant spread of antimicrobial resistance in China.
ReAct is an independent multidisciplinary global network based in Sweden that focuses on antibiotic resistance awareness and solutions. ReAct serves as a forum for ideas and debate, and concentrates on engaging a wide range of stakeholders, including academia, civil society groups, and policymakers.
Founded in 1972, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is a U.S. philanthropy devoted to public health issues. The Foundation has helped fund the research and advocacy work of Extending the Cure (ETC), a Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy (CDDEP) program on antibiotic resistance.
TFAH is a nonprofit committed to disease prevention in the U.S. through research, advocacy, and engaging with policymakers. TFAH believes in strengthening the public health system and has officially recognized the threat of antibiotic resistance, recommending that the government take action.
17. Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS)
UCS discusses the challenges of reducing antibiotic use and the importance of the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA) in regulating industry.
FAO, the food security wing of the United Nations, notes the improper use of antimicrobials in the livestock and aquaculture sectors as well as in the production of crops. FAO is calling for "a one-health and food-chain approach and is addressing antimicrobial resistance as a cross-sectoral issue."
The FDA, in its capacity as the U.S. government food regulator concerned with public health, has emphasized the threat posed by antibiotic resistance. The National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS) is an initiative of the FDA, started in 1996, to track antibiotic resistance in foodborne bacteria, whether it be from humans, retail foods, or livestock.
WHO, the agency of the United Nations specializing in global public health, has developed an action plan to fight antimicrobial resistance which includes serving as a network for stakeholders, informing policy, and supporting research. WHO also collaborates with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the FAO to help determine the best application of antibiotics both in healthcare and food industries.
Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY), a long-time advocate of more responsible use of antibiotics in agriculture, reintroduced the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA) in March of 2015. Please support the work of Rep. Slaughter and of the organizations listed here by telling your state representative to support PAMTA. Sign the petition HERE!