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Oregon hearing highlights threat of antibiotic-resistant superbugs

Senate Bill 785 aims to address growing public health crisis by stopping antibiotic overuse on factory farms

Salem, OR – A coalition of medical organizations, farmers, and public health advocates testified in front of the Senate Health Care Committee today in support of Senate Bill 785, a bill that would protect the effectiveness of antibiotics by stopping their overuse on factory farms in Oregon.

“As a medical professional working to combat infections in children, I need all the help I can get.  Our community needs to reduce resistant bacteria,” said Dr. Dawn Nolt, OHSU Pediatric Medical Director for Infection Prevention and Control, “The removal of antibiotics being given to healthy animals simply to prevent disease will go a LONG way towards improving the health and preserving the future of our kids.”

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a growing public health threat. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 2 million Americans get sick and 23,000 die annually from antibiotic-resistant infections. And a recent study estimates that more people could die from superbugs than cancer by 2050 if action isn’t taken.

“Doctors know better than to prescribe antibiotics for their patients to take every day to prevent disease, but that practice is widespread on today’s factory farms,” said Michael Hansen, senior scientist for Consumers Union, the policy and mobilization division of Consumer Reports.  “Most antibiotics in the U.S. are fed daily to healthy livestock to prevent disease in often unsanitary conditions, which is making these drugs lose their power to fight infections.  This bill will help ensure antibiotics keep working in people by limiting their use in animals to when they are truly needed to treat disease.”

While antibiotics are overused on both humans and animals, 70% of medically important antibiotics are actually sold for use on livestock and poultry, often on animals that are not sick. Many industrial-scale meat producers routinely treat otherwise healthy animals with preventative antibiotics, often to compensate for unhealthy and crowded conditions.

“A large body of research indicates that antibiotic resistant bacteria from poultry and livestock production can spread via several routes including through food, air, water, soil, pests, workers or via close proximity into communities,” said Carmen Cordova, Ph.D, a staff scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, “Livestock and poultry producers need to stop the use of medically important antibiotics on animals that are not sick. These critical, life-saving medicines have to be preserved to effectively treat sick animals and sick humans.”

Experts across the globe, from the World Health Organization to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agree that steps to immediately achieve significant reductions of antibiotic used on animal farms are essential to curb the spread of resistant bacteria.

“People of all political stripes and from all across the state overwhelmingly support stopping the routine use of antibiotics on farms,” said Charlie Fisher, State Director of the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group (OSPIRG), “That’s because the consequences of inaction couldn’t be higher – the very effectiveness of our antibiotics are at stake.”

Senate Bill 785 would:

  1. Prohibit giving medically important antibiotics to healthy farm animals in Oregon. Healthy humans aren’t supposed to take antibiotics; neither should healthy farm animals. The measure has exceptions for when there is a significant need to control the spread of disease or in relation to surgical or medical procedures.
  2. Require disclosure of how medically important antibiotics are used on factory farms. Because the bills would still allow for some antibiotic use on healthy animals, it is important to track that use. The bills will require EPA-defined Large Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) to annually disclose the details of their antibiotic use on their farm animals, and make that information public record. This provision would affect just over 100 Oregon farms.
  3. Limit the role of the government. Authorizes the Oregon Department of Agriculture to enact additional rules to enforce the law, but only requires the state to design and collect the aforementioned CAFO annual report.

“We do not use blanket meds on our farm and our profit margin keeps growing along with the demand for our product,” said Jason Ainslie, owner of Ainslie Farms located in Glide, Oregon, “People, stores and restaurants that we supply love knowing we don’t use meds, and know where the product is coming from.”

Supporters of the bill include: The Oregon Medical Association, Oregon Heath & Sciences University, Oregon Nurses Association, Friends of Family Farmers, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Natural Resources Defense Council, Consumers Union, OSPIRG, Oregon Environmental Council, Legacy Health, Oregon Primary Care Association, Center for Food Safety, and local farms including Cattail Creek Lamb, Anslie Farms, Phoenix Farm Enterprises, Red Bird Acres, Willow Witt Ranch, Butler Creek Farm, Tangled Orchard Farm and more.

Contact:  Michael McCauley, mmccauley@consumer.org, 415-431-6747, ext 7606