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July 26, 2012

Former FDA Veterinarian Calls for an End to Antibiotic Overuse in Animal Agriculture during Capitol Hill Briefing

Dr. Michael Blackwell joins HSVMA in supporting PAMTA legislation

Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association

Michael Blackwell, DVM, MPH,  a former deputy director for the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, led a Capitol Hill briefing Tuesday on the issue of animal welfare and antibiotic use in animal agriculture calling for an end to antibiotic overuse in livestock production.

Dr. Blackwell stated his support for the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act. The legislation would phase out the routine nontherapeutic use of antibiotics in farm animals to promote growth and prevent diseases associated with poor animal husbandry systems. The measure would maintain the effectiveness of these drugs for treating sick people and animals. The Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, of which Blackwell is a member, supports the legislation.

“It is critical to American public health that we preserve the ability to use antibiotics,” said Blackwell. “Eighty percent of antibiotics used in the U.S. are for agriculture, and 90 percent of the agricultural uses are at subtherapeutic levels that won’t kill, but instead will make bacteria stronger. There are those who would have you believe that the 80 percent is irrelevant and has nothing to do with 178 people dying every day due to resistant infections. But we’re not stupid.” 

Joining Blackwell on the panel at the Capitol Hill briefing for legislators and their staff were poultry farmer Frank Reese and Tennessee Titans linebacker Will Witherspoon. Reese raises heritage poultry on pasture in Kansas as part of the Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch cooperative, and does not administer subtherapeutic antibiotics. Witherspoon raises grass-fed cattle at the Shire Gate Farm, an Animal Welfare Approved certified farm that uses sustainable techniques to almost completely eliminate the need for antibiotics.

Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., the lead House sponsor of PAMTA and the only microbiologist in Congress, welcomed the panelists and urged prompt action, noting “we don’t have a lot of time, and our lives depend on it.”

Blackwell also serves on the board of directors of The Humane Society of the United States, as an administrator of the Young-Williams Animal Center in Knoxville, Tenn., and as president and CEO of Blackwell Consulting, LLC. In addition to his service at the FDA, his distinguished background includes previously held positions as a veterinarian in private practice; dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Tennessee; vice chair of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production; and chief of staff of the Office of the Surgeon General of the United States.

Facts:

  • An estimated 80 percent of all antimicrobials sold in the United States today are being used to counteract the consequences of confining farm animals in overcrowded, stressful and unsanitary conditions, and to speed their growth. A direct link has been demonstrated between this use and the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria “superbugs” that affects the health of both animals and people.
  • The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act was introduced as H.R. 965 in the House by Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., and as S. 1211 in the Senate by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Susan Collins, R-Maine.

Media Contact: Niki Ianni, 240-753-4874, nianni@humanesociety.org

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