Last week I discussed a report issued by the Centers for Diseases Control (“CDC”) that addressed the ever increasing prevalence of antibiotic resistance. One author, commenting on the potential demise of antibiotics, went as far as to compare a modern post antibiotic era to the plight of our ancestors during the “Black Death.” Piling on, the CDC declared antimicrobial resistance to be “one of our most serious health threats.”
The report cites antibiotic use in the meat and poultry industry as a significant factor in the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria. On this issue, the report states that “antibiotics must be used judiciously in humans and animals because both uses contribute to not only the emergence, but also the persistence and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria …” Regarding the use of antibiotics in animals, the report recommends that “[a]ntibiotics should be used in food-producing animals only under veterinary oversight and only to manage and treat infectious diseases, not to promote growth.”
Mandatory legislation restricting the use of antibiotics in otherwise healthy animals has been held out as a possible legal solution. Currently, the Food and Drug Administration’s recommended guidelines promote a “judicious use” of antibiotics when the health of an animal is at risk. These guidelines are strictly voluntary. On March 14, 2013, Congresswoman Louise M. Slaughter from New York introduced a bill designed to end the use of routine use of antibiotics on healthy animals while allowing their use in the treatment of sick animals.
Another legal solution to combat antimicrobial resistance, identified by the Houston Journal of Health Law and Policy, is leveraging intellectual property law in order to provide economic incentives for pharmaceutical companies to develop new antibiotics. By using patent and intellectual property law as an incentive to develop novel antibiotics, the federal government could help re-stock depleted drug arsenals.
There is no quick fix to the problems highlighted by the CDC Report. The use of targeted legislation however may be effective in combating the pervasiveness of antibiotic resistance.