Dear Secretary Vilsack,
I'd like to thank you for tackling some very tough questions from audience members at last Wednesday's The Future of Food conference in Washington, DC. Your passion and commitment for farmers and rural communities is moving and greatly appreciated. I must admit, however, I am extremely disappointed with your response to my question about antibiotic use in food animals. I asked, when will the government do something to stop producers from squandering 70% of our antibiotics on healthy farm animals? You answered with the question, "How do you basically legislate that?"
Almost everyone in the audience knew the answer. Spontaneously, like a Greek chorus, dozens of voices yelled out, "regulate it!" How else are we going to save our antibiotics for what they were first intended? Without antibiotics modern medicine could literally be taken back to the days when a simple childhood ear infection lead to permanent hearing loss and worse cases death.
Mr. Secretary, knowing your passion to help the people who live in rural communities, there is no larger issue to focus your attention on than protecting them from antibiotic-resistant bacteria sourced from food animals. Public health experts warn farm workers and the people who live near these factory farms face a greater risk of farm-acquired antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections than the general public.
I understand that the USDA's stance, as you stated, is to encourage farmers to use antibiotics "judiciously." With all due respect, our current predicament is proof that "voluntary" measures don't work and now there is no time left to ask industrial producers nicely to stop wasting our antibiotics. We must act now. While regulating antibiotics may fall under the Food and Drug Administration's jurisdiction, as the Secretary of Agriculture, I hope you take the time to find ways to support the FDA in "regulating" this gross misuse of modern medicine's most precious resource. You may also want to consider standing behind the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act. U.S. Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY), the only microbiologist in Congress, recently reintroduced the bill, which calls for the end of using medically important antibiotics on healthy food animals.