Press Release, Opinion

Still Waiting After All These Years

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In 1977, Jimmy Carter was president. Elvis Presley was still in the building. And the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was rolling up its sleeves to start addressing the problem of antibiotic overuse on industrial farms.

Thirty-six years later, President Barack Obama is settling into his second term. Elvis impersonators are going gray and retiring. And the FDA still has not adequately addressed the public health threat posed by antibiotic overuse. We cannot wait any longer.

In the 1950s, meat and poultry producers began feeding antibiotics to healthy animals largely to make them grow faster and to compensate for the increasingly overcrowded and unsanitary conditions on their farms. And even though Alexander Fleming, the scientist who earned a Nobel Prize in 1945 for discovering penicillin, warned that these practices would breed antibiotic-resistant bacteria, it wasn't until 1969 that a groundbreaking report provided the first scientific evidence that confirmed his theory. Acting on this report and additional studies conducted in the early and mid-1970s, the FDA took steps in 1977 to restrict the use of several important antibiotics in animal feed for production purposes (as opposed to medical reasons). Unfortunately, the agency's journey never extended beyond these first few strides.

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Running for re-election, President Obama told Scientific American in September 2012 that his "administration is taking steps to limit antibiotic use for livestock. This will help ensure that antibiotics are used only address diseases and health problems, and not for enhancing growth and other production purposes."

Mr. President: The FDA took steps in 1977. Please finish the job in 2013.

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