Health Professionals Take Action to Stop Antibiotics Overuse in Meat Industry

By Matt Wellington
Director, Campaign to Stop the Overuse Of Antibiotics

The rapid spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria is quickly becoming public enemy number one among health experts worldwide.

In recent months, cases of bacteria resistant to colistin, an antibiotic typically reserved as a last resort for treating infections when other drugs fail, have swept across the world. Since the first case was reported on a Chinese pig farm in November last year, colistin resistant bacteria have been found on every continent. The U.S. now has four reported cases—two humans and two pigs. The situation surrounding the new superbug provides compelling new evidence that overusing antibiotics in agriculture threatens public health.

The majority of antibiotics sold in the U.S—roughly 70 percent—are sold for use on livestock and poultry. Many industrial farms administer the drugs on a routine basis to animals that aren’t sick to make them grow faster and as a prophylactic against disease brought on by unsanitary conditions. That practice breeds antibiotic resistant bacteria that can travel off the farm and into communities, potentially infecting people with difficult to treat, sometimes fatal, illnesses.

Doctors, nurses, and health professionals are an influential voice in stopping the overuse of antibiotics in the meat industry. According to a conducted by Travel Buddy and Consumer Reports, 93% of doctors said they were concerned about the practice of using antibiotics on healthy animals for growth promotion and disease prevention. That’s a powerful consensus.

Dr. Michael Gilmore, Director of the Infectious Disease Institute at Harvard Medical School, says that the purported benefits of raising animals on routine antibiotics fall far short of the consequences.

“What it does, though, is increase the amount of antibiotic resistance genes in the environment, making it easier for microbes that cause human infection to become antibiotic resistant. Those making money from selling animal feed with antibiotics will not stop voluntarily, and Congress will not empower federal agencies to ban this practice, so the only choice is for people to use their voice to say "enough!”—Dr. Michael Gilmore, Director of the Infectious Disease Institute at Harvard Medical School.

An effective way for health professionals to “use their voice” is to call on major restaurants to buy meat only from farms that don’t raise their animals on routine antibiotics. U.S. PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) has built a network of 25,000 health professionals calling on major restaurants to use their immense purchasing power to stop the overuse of antibiotics in the meat industry. That effort helped convince both McDonald's and Subway to make strong commitments last year to phase out unnecessary antibiotics use in their meat supply chains—McDonald’s was chicken only and Subway committed to all meats. 

On Tuesday, July 19th Travel Buddy and its state partners are holding coordinated actions to engage more health professionals in challenging major restaurant chains to push the meat industry away from misusing these medicines. On this day, in front of hospitals nationwide, there will be volunteers asking doctors and nurses to sign onto a letter of support and participate in a photo petition that urges more major restaurants like KFC to establish good antibiotics policies. U.S. PIRG will tweet the photos out on social media with #saveabx.

Here are 3 ways to participate:

1. Sign onto U.S. PIRG's Moving the Marketplace Letter .

2. Share this graphic on Twitter on July 19th with the hashtag #saveabx:

Here's a sample tweet: "As a health professional, I urge major restaurants to commit to serving meat raised w/o routine antibiotics. #saveabx" 

3. Print out one of and take a picture of you or a clinician colleague holding it and post on using #saveabx: Sample tweet: "Major restaurants should help protect our life-saving medicines by committing to serve meat raised w/o routine antibiotics #saveabx".


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