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Lawmakers weigh curbs on farm-animal antibiotics use


With leading medical authorities warning that public health is threatened by a “post-antibiotic future,” a panel of state lawmakers received testimony Tuesday from organizations representing Oregon doctors, nurses, farmers and consumers in support of legislation [pdf] to curtail the overuse of these critical medicines on Oregon farm animals.

If the proposed bill is approved by lawmakers, Oregon would become the first state to act on this matter, according to OSPIRG, which sent the following news release on the legislation:

“Most Oregonians have relied on antibiotics to treat an illness, from strep throat to the side-effects of cancer,” said Dave Rosenfeld, executive director of the consumer group OSPIRG, “These medicines are at risk, and we need to act fast to protect them.”

The World Health Organization, the Food & Drug Administration and most major national medical organizations have recognized that antibiotics are becoming less effective and could stop working.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that at least 2 million Americans become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of these infections.

Factory farming practices are often a source of the problem; 70 percent of antibiotics sold in the United States are used on livestock and poultry, and not primarily to treat sick animals.

Instead, OSPIRG SAID, antibiotics are often put into the daily feed of healthy animals to promote growth and prevent disease due to overcrowded conditions.

As a result, bacteria commonly present on farms are mutating into stronger, antibiotic-resistant strains. These germs, sometimes called “superbugs,” can then find their way to the human population through numerous pathways, including contaminated food, airborne dust blowing off farms, and water and soil polluted with contaminated feces.

Proposed legislation to address the problem has been introduced in both the Oregon House (HB 2598) and Senate (SB 920), co-sponsored by Reps. Peter Buckley, Mitch Greenlick and Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson and supported by groups ranging from the Oregon Nurses Association to the Oregon Pediatric Society to Friends of Family Farmers and Consumers Union: the policy arm of Consumer Reports.

Tuesday’s public hearing was held on the House version before the Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources, and included testimony from a number of medical professionals such as Dr. Judith Guzman-Cottrill, DO and Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the Division of Infectious Diseases at Oregon Health and Science University.

The legislative proposal comes as the fast food industry companies, from Burgerville to Chipotle to McDonald’s, are making decisions to buy meat that has been raised with the judicious use of antibiotics.

“Our farm is just one of thousands across the United States and around the world that offer living proof that it is not necessary to overuse antibiotics on healthy animals to raise a profitable product,” said Chrissie Manion Zaerpoor, Co-Owner of Kookooloan Farms in Yamhill,

“Oregon’s farmers want to nourish the state and believe public health should be increased, not endangered, by producing food to put on our tables.”

“As a veterinarian I believe it is time for livestock production to take control of their side of this problem,” said Christina Morris, DVM. “Right now, the Oregon State Legislature has the opportunity to pass House Bill 2598, which would stop untargeted use of antibiotics for industrial purposes and save them for the truly sick.”

OSPIRG is a statewide public interest group.

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