Pew Charitable Trusts: Preserving Antibiotics for the Future

In the pre-antibiotic era, doctors were taught that they could not change the course of their patients’ illnesses. Their job, instead, was to make an accurate diagnosis so they could give an accurate prognosis to their patients. When antibiotics came along in the 1940’s, it totally revolutionized things. They are undoubtedly responsible for saving millions of human lives.

Unfortunately, inappropriate use of antibiotics could be threatening their ability to cure. As mentioned by Dr. Lance Price during his presentation at one of our conferences this past year, the conventional livestock industry’s low dose use of antibiotics is partially responsible for drug-resistant bacteria emerging on farms. This is thought to reach the general population through human or animal carriers, and through the food consumers eat.

Our animals are raised using traditional methods that respect their innate behaviors rather than in crowded, unsanitary or stressful settings. This makes the need for antibiotics to treat sick animals very minimal. If one of our animals does get sick and cannot get well without antibiotics, our animal welfare protocols allow for the animal to be treated.  If this happens, the animal is removed from our program and never sold as Niman Ranch meat.  Luckily, this rarely occurs.

This being the time of New Year’s resolutions, we took the time to ask Laura Rogers, project director at Pew, a few questions about their organization’s activities, both now and in the future. They spread awareness to both the scientific and greater community in an effort to preserve the effectiveness of life-saving antibiotics.

Their work highlights how important it is to keep our commitment to raising livestock without using antibiotics or hormones – ever.

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Only 20% of antibiotics in the US are prescribed to humans. The rest is used on livestock.

Niman Ranch: What brought Pew and Niman Ranch together, initially?

Laura Rogers: As we’ve been working to reduce the overuse of antibiotics in food animal production, we often heard from industry trade organizations that routine antibiotic use was necessary to raise livestock. We knew that wasn’t accurate, and we began reaching out to food producers, including Niman, who could talk about their own experiences raising chickens, turkeys, pigs, and cattle without the routine use of these drugs.

Niman Ranch: What inspired Pew to pursue the issue of antibiotic resistance?

Laura Rogers: In 2008, the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production released a sweeping report on industrial animal agriculture and its effect on the environment, public health, worker rights and rural communities. The report was the result of a three year investigation by an independent panel of experts. After its publication, Pew decided that the most pressing issue that we could address was the overuse of antibiotics in agriculture and the threat it posed to human health. Since that time, we have been working with medical, public health and food industry leaders, veterinarians, agricultural groups, academics, parents and other caregivers, chefs and consumers’ groups that share the objective of preserving the integrity of antibiotics for human and animal health.

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When antibiotics fail to work, the consequences are longer-lasting illnesses, more doctor visits or extended hospital stays and the need for more expensive and toxic medications.

Niman Ranch: What are some of the most meaningful projects you’ve accomplished in 2014?

Laura Rogers: With the support of our partners School Food FOCUS and Health Care Without Harm, we’ve helped large school districts (for example: several districts in California, Colorado’s Jefferson County) and hospitals (UCLA Medical Center, UCSF Medical Center) add meat raised without antibiotics to their dining services menus. This movement in the marketplace is thanks to growing consumer demand and public education efforts from Pew and other partner groups.

On May 7, 2014, Pew’s human health and industrial farming campaign held the third annual Supermoms Against Superbugs lobby day on Capitol Hill. Thirty-three Supermoms and Superdads called on the Obama administration and Congress to advance policies that would end the overuse and misuse of antibiotics in food animal production. The Obama administration has since laid out a national strategy to stem the rising tide of antibiotic resistance.

Niman Ranch: Where will you focus your efforts in the future?

Laura Rogers: In 2015, we look forward to continuing to work with the Obama administration to strengthen its new national strategy to ensure antibiotics are used properly in human medicine and on industrial farms, where they are used most often. Additionally, we hope to work with USDA and FDA to bring more transparency to the use of antibiotics in agriculture and address gaps in policies that allow antibiotics to be use habitually to prevent sickness in livestock.

Niman Ranch: Is there a message or call to action you’d like to share with our network?

Laura Rogers: First of all, thank you! By purchasing Niman Ranch products, you are supporting family farmers who are helping make sure these drugs work for people and animals in the future. We encourage you to continue voting with your dollars and, if you are looking to do even more, ask that institutions such as schools and hospitals in your community do the same. Additionally, it is important that your policymakers hear that you care about this issue so please sign our petition calling on members of Congress to support policies to end the routine use of antibiotics on the farm.

Everyone — doctors, patients, drug manufacturers and farmers alike — have an important role to play in making sure antibiotics continue to work in the future.

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