Reforming Our Food Production Can Start With Curbing Antibiotic Use

Jonathan Safran Foer's new book, Eating Animals, has inspired a lively discussion here at HuffPo about how we produce the food we eat. One of the most important issues on that subject to me as a microbiologist is the danger of overusing antibiotics.

There is a direct correlation between the inhumane conditions in which animals are kept and the prevalence of dangerous E. coli. One of the immediate steps we can take to improve the conditions of livestock and the health of our fellow human beings is to limit the use of antibiotics to only treating disease.

Effective antibiotics are one of our last lines of defense against food borne illnesses, but overuse of these drugs in livestock is rapidly depleting our arsenal by creating resistant strains of previously treatable bacteria. Last month, experts at the Danish Technical Institute wrote to many Members of Congress, including me, about their country's experience phasing out non-therapeutic antibiotic (NTA) use. Their results are dramatic and encouraging, and help refute many of the criticisms that my bill has faced.

These results show that stopping NTA makes livestock healthier without reducing livestock's growth, and can even increase farmer's production. Even more exciting is the finding that stopping NTA doesn't just stop the rise of resistant bacteria, it actually decreases their prevalence.

In March, I introduced H.R. 1549, the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA), which currently has seventy-three cosponsors. This bill would ensure that we preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics for the treatment of human diseases by restricting the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock.

I convened a hearing on this issue earlier this year and for the first time took testimony from the FDA, which acknowledged that this is a serious issue that needs attention. Since that time, I have reached out to the White House to encourage President Obama to side with us on this issue as we continue to round up additional co-sponsors and study the field.

We need to rein in the unnecessary use of these drugs to reduce the prevalence of resistant bacteria and preserve the use of these important medications for when they are needed most.