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Annapolis, Md – Public health advocates are crying foul over the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s (MDA) long-awaited regulations to implement the Keep Antibiotics Effective Act of 2017. That year, the Maryland General Assembly passed the bill to help curb the proliferation of antibiotic resistant bacteria by eliminating routine use of antibiotics in livestock and poultry that aren’t sick.
The MDA has given notice that they are enacting the regulations on January 18th despite concerns from legislators, public health professionals, and advocacy groups who say the regulations fail to address the routine use of antibiotics on large farms and undermine the intent of the bill, which is to curtail such overuse and stop the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria that render these life-saving drugs ineffective.
“Antibiotics are our last defense against life threatening infections,” said Dr. Pat McLaine, a registered nurse and member of the Maryland Nurses Association. “As we’ve said before, these regulations fall short in protecting our precious antibiotics for times when they are needed most.”
In September, the Joint Committee on Administration, Executive, and Legislative Review (AELR) put a hold on the draft regulations to delay them from going into effect and allow a chance for improvement. The Maryland Campaign to Keep Antibiotics Working delivered a letter from public health, labor, and environmental organizations and more than 1,000 public comments to Governor Hogan asking him to revise and strengthen the regulations.
Organizations that criticized the draft regulations as being unclear and too weak to meet the intent of the law include the Maryland Public Health Association, Maryland Sierra Club, Maryland Nurses Association, SEIU 1199 United Health Care Workers, the Society of Infectious Disease Pharmacists, Fair Farms, Waterkeepers Chesapeake, Maryland Votes for Animals, Natural Resources Defense Council, Maryland PIRG, and Clean Water Action.
In the letter to the AELR Committee, the groups called for two specific improvements of the regulations, saying, “We face an urgent global antibiotic resistance crisis, driven in part by widespread overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture.” Specifically, the groups called for clarification in the definitions for “regular pattern,” and “prophylaxis,” to ensure that the regulations fulfill the intent of the law.
“We are disappointed in the Department of Agriculture for succumbing to industry pressure at the cost of our health, particularly for vulnerable communities like children, the elderly, cancer patients, and the chronically ill,” said Betsy Nicholas, Founder of Fair Farms Maryland.
Maryland PIRG Director Emily Scarr explained, “Lawmakers came together in broad bipartisan support to stop the overuse of antibiotics on farms. While this decision is a set back, it is not the end of the conversation. We will work hand in hand with public health professionals and legislators to ensure antibiotics are reserved for when they are needed most: for sickness and surgery.”
Before antibiotics, infections were the leading cause of death in America. Now, ending the routine use of antibiotics in agriculture has been identified by the World Health Organization, American Academy of Pediatrics, and other leading health groups as a key strategy to fight the growing crisis of antibiotic resistance. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that at least 2 million people become sick with antibiotic resistant infections every year. Of those, at least 23,000 people die as a result of the resistant infections. The annual cost in the United States of such infections exceeds $55 billion per year.
In the United States, approximately two thirds of antibiotics are sold for livestock use. Much of it is used not to treat sick animals but rather to compensate for a poor diet and cramped, unhygienic living conditions. This routine use of antibiotics accelerates the development of drug-resistant bacteria which can travel off of farms and into our communities through human-to-animal contact, contaminated food, insects, and through environmental factors like water run-off, dirt and airborne dust.
The Maryland Campaign to Keep Antibiotics Working is is made up of healthcare, public health, environmental, consumer, and animal welfare organizations, individuals, and companies working together to stop the misuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture.
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