Letters : You Are Spot On

Dear Editor:

Your editorial of July 26 pointed out the threat posed by bacteria that have become resistant to all antibiotics. As infectious disease specialists for children, my colleagues and I face this threat every day. Your points are spot on.

 I take issue with your conclusion though. You write, “However, with the drug and agriculture lobbies firmly in control of Congress, it is not likely that anything will be done to change our present practices, thereby placing all of us at risk for becoming the victims of a super-bug that we will be powerless to stop.”  Yes, we will be powerless to stop super-bugs resistant to all antibiotics. But we are not powerless to stop our Congress from doing the bidding of the drug and agriculture mega-corporations.

 In 2005, the European Commission issued a press release stating, “An EU-wide ban on the use of antibiotics as growth promoters in animal feed enters into effect on January 1, 2006. The last 4 antibiotics which have been permitted as feed additives to help fatten livestock will no longer be allowed to be marketed or used from this date. The ban is the final step in the phasing out of antibiotics used for non-medicinal purposes. It is part of the Commission’s overall strategy to tackle the emergence of bacteria and other microbes resistant to antibiotics, due to their overexploitation or misuse.” (https://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-05-1687_en.htm)

How did Europe manage to achieve this ban 13 years ago? The same mega-corporations hold sway there. But citizens organized and publicized the harm of antibiotics fed to farm animals. Voters demanded a stop to farming practices in which chickens, pigs and cattle are squeezed together at such close quarters that the only way they don’t die from mass infections is by feeding them all antibiotics. In addition to breeding “super-bugs.”  Cramming animals together by the tens of thousands spreads bacteria like Salmonella, Shigella, Campylobacter and E coli 0157 that kill hundreds of Americans each year.

In my country of origin in Europe, a major party – the Green party – stated in 2016 that animal farming with mass industrial practices should be phased out within 20 years (https://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/aussage-von-anton-hofreiter-gruene-wollen-massentierhaltung-komplett-verbieten-1.3040601). It ended up as the strongest party among voters under 60 in recent European elections (https://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/wahlanalyse-zur-eu-wahl-gruene-bei-waehlern-unter-60-staerkste-partei/24384310.html). Citizens are demanding change and making it happen.

What can we do? Organizing and voting are obvious steps we can take. (Primaries around the country and right here in Boston recently ejected politicians who prioritize their big-donor lobbyists over the values of their constitutents.) Avoiding soaps and household products labeled “antibacterial” lessens our risk from antibiotic-resistant bacteria because their ingredients like triclosan contribute to antibiotic resistance – plus they may be harmful (http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2017/say-goodbye-antibacterial-soaps-fda-banning-household-item/;https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/antibacterial-soap-you-can-skip-it-use-plain-soap-and-water). Eating less meat, while choosing meat that comes from animals treated less brutally and not fed antibiotics, is a powerful vote with our wallets – and lowers our risk of heart disease and cancer (https://www.who.int/features/qa/cancer-red-meat/en/).

Bottom line: whether we, our children or our loved ones will fall victims to super-bugs is very much up to us.

 Julia Koehler

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