Seattle Public Health, environment groups and medical professionals come together to address growing crisis of antibiotic resistance

Information provided by Food and Water Watch

Today, hundreds of public health and environmental advocates and medical professionals in the greater Seattle area are speaking out to make the case for stronger regulation of non-therapeutic antibiotics in Washington’s food supply.

Close to 30 million pounds of antibiotics are sold each year in the United States solely for use in animal agriculture, and many of these drugs are administered to animals for reasons other than treating disease, such as growth promotion and to compensate for overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions. The overuse of antibiotics in meat production has been proven to contribute to increasing rates of antibiotic-resistant bacteria (or “superbugs”). Antibiotic resistant bacteria pose a serious threat to human health: according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 2 million Americans suffer from antibiotic-resistant infections every year, accounting for at least 23,000 deaths.

In an effort to draw attention to this public health threat, today the Seattle City Council will vote to adopt a resolution banning the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in Washington livestock. Also, this evening several public health groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Food & Water Watch, Healthy Food Action, the Pew Charitable Trusts, Health Care Without Harm, and the Keep Antibiotics Working coalition will host a dinner and public education event Preserving Antibiotics: A Public Health Imperative at the University of Washington Medical Center. The event is expected to draw close to 200 health professionals. Dr. Scott Weissman of the Seattle Children’s Hospital Center for Global Infectious Disease Research, Dr. Paul Pottinger of the University of Washington Medical Center, and Dr. Gail Hansen of the Pew Charitable Trusts’ human health and industrial farming campaign will be among the keynote speakers.

As a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Senator Patty Murray has a unique role to play in the antibiotics debate, and advocates hope that she will emerge as a leader on this critical issue. In addition to calling for a ban on non-therapeutic uses of antibiotics in the state, the resolution, which is expected to pass formally next week, also calls on Senator Murray and Washington state representatives to co-sponsor federal legislation, the Preventing Antibiotic Resistance Act (PARA) and its companion bill in the House, the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA) which are designed to help curb routine antibiotic misuse on the farm. The resolution would make Seattle the fifth city nationwide to pass such a measure, following in the footsteps of Providence, RI, Cleveland, OH, Pittsburgh, PA and Redhook, NJ.

“Seattle has a history of leading on public health issues, and we should continue our legacy by leading the fight to save antibiotics for humans, not factory farms,” said Eva Resnick-Day, an organizer with Food & Water Watch, which spearheaded the push for the resolution. “Dozens of our supporters have volunteered their time to raise awareness and advocate for this. We want Senator Murray to tackle this public health crisis head-on, and to know that we will have her back when she does.”

In keeping with the spirit of the City Council Resolution, the University of Washington Medical Center is expected to announce that all of their pork and poultry products will soon be 100% antibiotic free, with the only exception being if they cannot find a replacement product.

“We are dedicated to improving the health of the community by linking evidence-based nutrition to the healthy foods we serve and to the education we provide staff, patients, and the community,” said Charles Zielinski, MHSA, Director Food and Nutrition at the University of Washington Medical Center. “This is a first step towards making more of our food options for patients antibiotic-free, and we hope to be able to extend this policy to other categories, such as dairy and beef, in the future.”

Health Care Without Harm has also been working closely with medical professionals across the state who have witnessed the health effects of antibiotic-resistant infections first hand. Organized by Health Care Without Harm and the Natural Resources Defense Council, Seattle physicians, nurses, and public health professionals are planning to sign on to and deliver a letter to Senator Murray’s office asking for her leadership on the issue, and greater antibiotic stewardship by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“Antibiotic resistance is the ‘global warming’ issue of human medicine: it’s already horrible, it’s manmade, and it’s going to get worse,” said Dr. Weissman. “While we typically only see a handful of these infections a year here in Washington, the numbers have been increasing to levels more consistent with those in other parts of the country. We need to address this crisis now, before it gets worse.”

If you’d like to connect with members of the public health or medical community for comment on the City Council resolution or other activities, please contact Katie Andriulli at kandriulli@mrss.com or (917) 438-4605.

For more information on tonight’s event at the University of Washington Medical Center, please click here or contact Kathy Pryor at kpryor@hcwh.org or (206) 714-0813.

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