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Reasonable plan for antibiotic use

Published April 09. 2014 4:00AM

Lower meat prices could come at a high price of human suffering if sensible antibiotic-use policies are not adopted.

Legislation intended to protect the public from the growing threat of dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria remains stalled in Congress. The powerful agricultural and pharmaceuticals lobbies oppose the legislation because, while it may be good for health, it would not be good for their businesses.

Nearly 30 million pounds of antibiotics are sold annually for use in farm animals, about four times the amount used by humans. Rather than treating sick animals, industrial farms use most of these drugs to prevent disease and reduce the chances of any illnesses that do emerge from spreading in crowded conditions.

While this allows the raising of more animals at lower costs, it creates a health threat. Bacteria, persistently exposed to these antibiotics, evolve. The strongest and most resistant survive and reproduce resistant strains. When the same or similar pathogens infect humans, antibiotics prescribed by doctors can prove useless.

Antibiotic resistance is a growing health threat. About 2 million people will fall ill from antibiotic-resistant infections this year, and about 23,000 will die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Preventing Antibiotic Resistant Act, introduced in the Senate, and companion legislation in the House, would direct the Food and Drug Administration to prohibit the use of antibiotics in ways that accelerate resistance. The prohibition would be limited to antibiotics that are critical to human health. Antibiotics exclusive to treating animal pathogens would be left untouched by the legislation. Farms could still use antibiotics to treat sick animals.

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., is among the bill's sponsors. Many health-advocacy groups support the legislation, including the American Medical Association and the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

Antibiotics have made the treatment of once deadly infections routine. It is foolish and dangerous to continue practices that could render these wonder drugs useless.

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