CDC Report on Antibiotic Resistance Doesn't Deliver Action Steps to Address Food Safety, Says CSPI


Today's report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention underscores that drug-resistant hazards in the nation’s food supply pose a serious threat to public health, according to the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest. One-third of the twelve resistant pathogens that CDC categorized as a "serious" threat to public health are found in food. Antibiotic resistance is a health crisis that warrants attention: CDC estimates at least 2 million illnesses every year are from an antibiotic-resistant infection, though CSPI cautions this may understate the real public health burden.

"CDC found that 22% of the resistant illnesses are linked to foodborne hazards, so the overuse of antibiotics in the animal sector can no longer be ignored." said Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of food safety at CSPI. "The volume of antibiotics sold for use in animals dwarfs those used in human medicine. While attention to both sectors is vital, action is urgently needed to manage the food safety risks posed by the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in food animals."

While CDC's new report gives advice to human healthcare practitioners on how to avoid contributing to antibiotic resistance, CSPI said CDC missed an opportunity to advise veterinarians and federal and state agencies on reducing the quantity of antibiotics used in animal production. Although CDC says antibiotics for growth promotion in food animals should be "phased out," the report lacks specific detail, including advice for veterinarians, the food industry, and the agencies that regulate food safety—the Food and Drug Administration and the United States Department of Agriculture. And CDC's advice for consumers on safe food handling may help people avoid illness, but it doesn't help stop the problem of resistance development.

"CDC's new findings underscore the price consumers pay for the continuing delay by the USDA to act on controlling antibiotic-resistant Salmonella in the nation's meat supply." said CSPI senior staff attorney Sarah Klein. "USDA should grant CSPI's 2011 petition to declare these pathogens as adulterants to ensure that these superbugs are removed from the food supply whenever they are discovered."

In the United States, 74% of antibiotics considered critically or highly important by the World Health Organization are sold for use in food animal production. CSPI recommends the following actions based on CDC's report to reduce this unnecessary use of antibiotics:

  • FDA and the White House should immediately release new guidance for pharmaceutical companies, veterinarians and the food industry;
  • Food producers should use antibiotics on the advice of a veterinarian only to treat animal disease, and not as prophylactics or to promote growth;
  • To minimize exposure to antibiotic resistant pathogens in the meat supply, consumers should buy meats that bear a label saying "USDA Certified Organic" or "Raised Without Antibiotics: USDA Process Certified".
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