Fol­low Per­due’s ex­am­ple

If the poul­try gi­ant can stop rou­tine an­tibi­otic use, why can’t oth­ers in the in­dus­try?

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Emily Scarr Emily Scarr is the di­rec­tor of Mary­land PIRG; Twit­ter: @Emi­lyS­carr, @Mary­landPIRG.

This month, Mary­land’s own Per­due Farms an­nounced that their chicken sup­ply is now100 per­cent an­tibi­otic free — a win for pub­lic health in Mary­land and the en­tire coun­try. Per­due is the first ma­jor Amer­i­can poul­try sup­plier to stop us­ing rou­tine, low dose an­tibi­otics in their agri­cul­tural op­er­a­tion. If Per­due, which pro­cesses ap­prox­i­mately 13 mil­lion chick­ens each week, can make this change, why can’t ev­ery­one?

The rou­tine use of low dose an­tibi­otics to raise an­i­mals fa­cil­i­tates the spread of an­tibi­otic-re­sis­tant bac­te­ria, which can travel off of farms and into the com­mu­nity through hu­man to an­i­mal con­tact, con­tam­i­nated food and through en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors like wa­ter run-off, dirt and air­borne dust. The spread of an­tibi­otic re­sis­tant bac­te­ria is very much a pub­lic health cri­sis. Ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol (CDC), at least 2 mil­lion Amer­i­cans get sick from an­tibi­otic re­sis­tant in­fec­tions each year, and 23,000 die as a di­rect re­sult. In­creased hos­pi­tal stays and lost work days all con­trib­ute to the $55 bil­lion to $70 bil­lion an­nual cost of these an­tibi­otic-re­sis­tant in­fec­tions na­tion­wide.

If we lose an­tibi­otics, our health sys­tems will dra­mat­i­cally change. A mi­nor in­fec­tion or in­jury could kill. Los­ing an­tibi­otics would crip­ple the ef­fec­tive­ness of some of our most im­por­tant tools in medicine, se­ri­ously un­der­min­ing our abil­ity to man­age in­fec­tions in pa­tients un­der­go­ing che­mother­apy, dial­y­sis, or­gan trans­plants, c-sec­tions and other surg­eries. Some es­ti­mates sug­gest that by 2050, drug re­sis­tant in­fec­tions could kill more peo­ple world­wide per year than can­cer does now.

In the U.S., ap­prox­i­mately 70 per­cent of an­tibi­otics con­sid­ered im­por­tant to hu­man medicine are sold for use on live­stock and poul­try. These drugs are of­ten fed to an­i­mals that aren’t sick to prevent dis­ease that can be caused by cramped or un­san­i­tary liv­ing con­di­tions. Through the use of an­i­mal hus­bandry tech­niques, vac­cines and pro­bi­otics, Per­due has moved away from low dose an­tibi­otic use and only uses an­tibi­otics to treat sick an­i­mals.

Per­due’s ac­tion on an­tibi­otics is not only the right thing to do for pub­lic health, it has also proven to be a smart busi­ness Jim Per­due, left, looks on as Per­due’s food safety ex­pert dis­cusses the com­pany’s ef­forts to re­spond to con­sumer de­mands re­gard­ing an­tibi­otics and an­i­mal treat­ment. de­ci­sion. In a Wall Street Jour­nal ar­ti­cle, Per­due Chair­man Jim Per­due es­ti­mates that sales of chicken raised with­out an­tibi­otics are grow­ing by 15 to 20 per­cent, while sales of con­ven­tional chicken are grow­ing by only 1 to 3 per­cent. And as Pan­era Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Ron­ald Shaich ex­plained, af­ter the sup­plier in­vested in dif­fer­ent ways to raise and treat chick­ens, the “cost dif­fer­en­tial was de min­imis.”

Per­due is one of the early movers and shak­ers on the an­tibi­otics is­sue, com­ing out ahead of other pro­duc­ers like Tyson Foods, which has also re­cently com­mit­ted to phase out med­i­cally im­por­tant an­tibi­otics. In re­cent years, food chains like Pan­era, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, Sub­way and McDon­ald’s have all made com­mit­ments to stop serv­ing meat raised with rou­tine an­tibi­otics.

The mar­ket is shift­ing, but not at the pace nec­es­sary to ad­dress this pub­lic health cri­sis. While sig­nif­i­cant ev­i­dence in­di­cates that adopt­ing a re­spon­si­ble an­tibi­otics pol­icy is good busi­ness and will help pro­tect an­tibi­otics for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions, there are still some who re­sist change. For ex­am­ple, fast food chain KFC has re­mained sto­ically op­posed to amend­ing their an­tibi­otics pol­icy, and San­der­son Farms, an­other U.S. chicken pro­ducer, has even come out to say they are proud of their rou­tine an­tibi­otic use. The pharma- ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try is in­vest­ing heav­ily in al­ter­na­tive vac­cines and pro­bi­otics, while pump­ing dol­lars into lob­by­ing ef­forts in state cap­i­tals and D.C. to stop pro­posed reg­u­la­tions.

It is time for states and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to push for the rest of the poul­try and live­stock in­dus­try to fol­low Per­due’s lead.

The Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion has adopted guide­lines call­ing for the “ju­di­cious use” of med­i­cally im­por­tant an­tibi­otics in agri­cul­ture. Un­for­tu­nately, these poli­cies amount to noth­ing more than vol­un­tary half-mea­sures that have thus far failed to re­duce an­tibi­otics use in agri­cul­ture.

In 2015 Cal­i­for­nia, a state with an enor­mous an­i­mal agri­cul­tural in­dus­try, be­came the first to pro­hibit rou­tine low dose use of an­tibi­otics. The Mary­land state leg­is­la­ture has con­sid­ered a sim­i­lar mea­sure, but mem­bers have not yet suc­ceeded in pass­ing a law. They are ex­pected to con­sider do­ing so again in the 2017 leg­isla­tive ses­sion.

We can pro­tect our life sav­ing an­tibi­otics, but we have to push past the op­po­si­tion of the in­dus­try groups and act now. If Per­due can do it, why can’t we all?

ALGERINA PERNA/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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