July 12, 2010

The Anitbiotic Debate Heats Up

By Anthony Bartels

Even more hot, humid and sticky than the recent Washington, D.C., weather, is the antibiotic resistance discussion going on around town. Everyone seems to have their “silver bullet” or “smoking gun” to throw on the table, but, as I heard one wise individual state during my externship, if there is a seemingly simple solution to an issue as complex as antimicrobial resistance, then it’s probably the wrong solution.

This issue has the potential to impact how veterinarians are permitted to use antibiotics to prevent and control disease in animal agriculture. The veterinary profession cannot afford to sit back, let other groups speak for us on this issue and dictate a potentially restrictive solution. That’s why the GRD is involved on a daily basis with bringing veterinary medicine’s concerns and solutions to the table.

For instance, at the House Energy & Commerce Health Subcommittee hearing on “Promoting the Development of Antibiotics and Ensuring Judicious Use In Humans,” the American Medical Association’s testimony included, “…reducing the inappropriate use of antibiotics in animal agriculture,” as the third of three efforts that might be undertaken in order to reduce inappropriate use of antibiotics. The next subcommittee hearing on antimicrobial use in animal agriculture is scheduled for this month.

So what can you do in the mean time? Get familiar with the current proposed legislative solutions that are being discussed on Capitol Hill regarding antibiotics and antibiotic resistance: The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act of 2009 (PAMTA) and Strategies to Address Antimicrobial Resistance (STAAR) Act. Next, gather some data. You can start with taking action through the AVMA-CAN Government Action Center on these bills (AVMA brief on PAMTA, AVMA brief on STAAR) and by reading the AVMA’s response to the Pew Commission report on Industrial Farm Animal Production. Or read the current FDA reports, press releases and government oversight work related to antimicrobial resistance. Go and see what other groups are saying; for instance, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA on PAMTA), National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), the AMA. THEN formulate your own suggestions and conclusions based on the most relevant data and your own veterinary experiences.

Finally – and this is the most important part – actually communicate your thoughts and experiences on this issue to your various elected representatives. Utilizing these important channels is the only way that we create policy solutions based on science! Every letter, email and phone call counts. The entire Colorado delegation that I spoke with in D.C. confirmed the importance of constituents actually reaching out to them and letting their views be known.

Fortunately, the AVMA has a direct link to find your local delegates as well as the AVMA-CAN Government Action Center, where you can find more information on these bills. The AVMA staff in D.C. knows these issues inside and out and they are working hard on your behalf. As a major stakeholder in this situation, we all have a responsibility to keep this conversation on track, rather than let others dictate its course. Don’t let the rhetoric dominate this issue. Get familiar, get data, get informed, and get in the game.