Hey Montana moms and dads, do you know what your sole Congressman, Rep. Denny Rehberg is up to these days? Thanks to one of his proposed amendments targeting the Food and Drug Administration the "miracle drug" that your children depend on to fight nasty ear infections or pneumonia could lose one of its strongest defenders from being rendered useless. The Republican led House Appropriations Committee approved last week an agriculture bill containing your congressman's amendment, which could leave the FDA powerless to stop antibiotics on healthy food animals and needlessly increase the risk of developing new superbugs.
It seems like everywhere we turn new and dangerous superbugs that are resistant to antibiotics are popping up on a daily basis. Interestingly, they almost always seem to have a link to food animals. Just last week, researchers in Europe warned of a newly discovered methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is showing up in milk and that the origins are likely from cows. While German scientists say it is too early to officially pinpoint the source of its latest E. coli outbreak, which has killed more than 20 people and sickened at least 1,600, they are not ruling out food animals.
According to FDA data, 80% of the antibiotics purchased in the United States are reserved for food animals. Crazy you say? What's even crazier is that most of those antibiotics are used in the absence of infections -- can you imagine your pediatrician prescribing that for your toddler?
It's such an insane and dangerous concept that the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a lawsuit this month against the FDA for failing to protect consumers from the dangers of misusing antibiotics in livestock. Over the past two years leaders from both the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control have stated in front of Congress that the scientific evidence of a link between antibiotic-use in food animals and antibiotic resistance in people is undeniable and something should be done about it.
While the government hasn't done anything substantial about it yet, Rehberg doesn't want to take any chances. So he came up with an "amendment" that would block funding for the FDA to enforce desperately overdue regulations on antibiotic-use unless they meet "strict" requirements. His provision proposes to block the FDA from ordering regulations or guidances unless they are based on "hard science" -- as opposed to "soft" science? It gets worse. It would also stop the FDA from restricting a substance unless it can demonstrate that it is "... more harmful to users than a product that does not contain such substance... " -- whatever that means.
According to NRDC lawyers, Rehberg's amendment is poorly written and confusing, but it could be interpreted to prevent the FDA from keeping factory farms from wasting our antibiotics on healthy animals. That was exactly what Rehberg had in mind. According to the Des Moines Register's Philip Brasher, Rehberg said, "his concern had to do with the FDA's regulation of animal drugs."
Rehberg's proposal will only delay the inevitable. The risks of wasting antibiotics on healthy animals to our health are well documented and too great to ignore for long. I just can't believe that the citizens of Montana would knowingly want to take those risks. Why should parents take more chances of their children getting sick because we are squandering their best medicines to fatten animals faster? I can't believe that is what they elected Congressman Rehberg to do. Montana moms and dads, please, call your congressman. There is no time, or antibiotics, to waste!