The Bush Administration is about to let a drug company sell one of our few remaining effective antibiotics for use on livestock. This is so the drug company can make higher profits. They do not care that this decision could kill a LOT of us.
Here is what is going on: These days people don’t think of infections as serious, not to mention potentially fatal. This is because we have antibiotics to kill the germs. But throughout human history bacteria were one of the biggest – if not the biggest – causes of death. All the way up until the discovery of penicillin – less than 100 years ago – people used to die from things as simple as a cut getting infected.
The germs have been fighting back. They build up resistance to the drugs we use against them, and over time the drugs stop working. This is the reason doctors tell people to be sure to take ALL of the antibiotics in a prescription even if they start to feel better — you need to kill ALL of the germs or the ones that survive develop resistance. The other reason is that drugs are given to livestock because they help them get fatter quicker. Over time, through simple evolution and natural selection, the germs become resistant to the antibiotics and we all are put at risk. One after another the antibiotics have become nearly useless. In fact, we only have a few effective antibiotics left.
Think about what would happen if germs get a chance to build resistance to the few remaining effective antibiotics. Now read this news story:
The government is on track to approve a new antibiotic to treat a pneumonia-like disease in cattle, despite warnings from health groups and a majority of the agency’s own expert advisers that the decision will be dangerous for people.
… The American Medical Association and about a dozen other health groups warned the Food and Drug Administration that giving cefquinome to animals would probably speed the emergence of microbes resistant to that important class of antibiotics, as has happened with other drugs. Those super-microbes could then spread to people.
And WHY are they going to approve using this drug in cattle? Because the company is willing to sacrifice future effectiveness of the drug in order to make higher profits today. From the story,
“The industry says that ‘until you show us a direct link to human mortality from the use of these drugs in animals, we don’t think you should preclude their use,’ ” said Edward Belongia, an epidemiologist at the Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation in Wisconsin. “But do we really want to drive more resistance genes into the human population? It’s easy to open the barn door, but it’s hard to close the door once it’s open.”
This has already happened before. Again, from the story,
The FDA knows how hard it can be to close that door. In the mid-1990s, overriding the objections of public health experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the drug agency approved the marketing of two drugs, Baytril and SaraFlox, for use in poultry. Both are fluoroquinolones, a class of drugs important for their ability to fight the bioterror bacterium that causes anthrax and a food-borne bacterium called campylobacter, which causes a serious diarrheal disease in people.
A broader question is raised by this: If there are so few effective antibiotics, shouldn’t they be considered to be a common resource — something that is “owned” by the people for the people? How can a corporation be allowed to decide something like this, something that could kill a LOT of us, on the basis of making a short-term profit, a quick buck?
Conservatives — they choose corporate profits over people every single time.
Update – Mary has more on this at The Left Coaster.