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Chicago politics and animal antibiotics (commentary)Chicago politics and animal antibiotics (commentary)

Dr. Richard Raymond 1

April 17, 2015

5 Min Read
Chicago politics and animal antibiotics (commentary)

ON March 18, alderman Edward M. Burke, a Democrat from the Chicago, Ill., south side and the longest-serving alderman in Chicago's storied political history, dropped proposed Ordinance 02015-2551 into the control of the Chicago City Council's Finance Committee, a committee Burke chairs.

The ordinance would add a new section to Chapter 7-38 of the "Municipal Code" that would make it "unlawful for any person to sell, offer for sale, give away, barter, exchange or otherwise furnish in the city of Chicago any food product made wholly or in part from any livestock or poultry that has been administered a medically important antimicrobial for a nontherapeutic use."

The proposed change to the "Municipal Code" further defines nontherapeutic use as the "administration of antibiotics to an animal for a purpose (such as growth promotion, feed efficiency, weight gain or disease prevention) other than therapeutic use or non-routine disease control."

The proposed ordinance is loaded with "WHEREAS" paragraphs that simply show the non-science background of Burke and whoever wrote his proposed ordinance for him, but the two previous paragraphs are a good place to start in showing the total lack of understanding by these folks.

For instance, while the first reference says "antimicrobial," the second one uses the term "antibiotics." Are they maybe a bit confused, or just ignorant?

Now, for the WHEREAS sections:

* "WHEREAS approximately 80% of antibacterial drugs disseminated in the U.S. in 2010 were sold for use on food animals, rather than humans."

We all know that this is a number expressing sales based on weight, not volume, but more important is the fact that the number comes from a Food & Drug Administration document that says, quite clearly, that the number also includes companion animals like cats, dogs and horses. In the European Union, for example, the sales figure for use in companion animals represents 34% of all sales for use in animals.

* "WHEREAS a 1999 study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded that resistant strains of three microorganisms that cause foodborne illnesses or disease in humans (salmonella, campylobacter and Escherichia coli) are linked to the use of antibiotics in animals."

First of all, the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS) — administered jointly by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention — has shown time and again that the antibiotics of choice used to treat salmonella and campylobacter remain highly effective.

Personally, I will trust a report from FDA that is based on science — like NARMS is — much more than a politically based study from GAO.

Second, Burke has no idea that treating E. coli O157:H7 with an antibiotic would actually increase the release of the deadly toxin as the cells die and would be considered medical malpractice.

* "WHEREAS these drugs are used to treat people for serious diseases ... like malaria and plague, as well as bioterrorism agents like smallpox."

Please understand that malaria is caused by a parasitic infection, and the drugs of choice are things like quinine, chloroquine and other newer, stronger antiparasitic drugs.

The problem with resistance developing in malaria treatment is that the drugs have nasty side effects, so many people stop taking them when the chills and sweats abate. The problem is not because the drugs are used in animals raised for food.

Also, there has not been a single case of smallpox on this Earth since the 1970s, and if the virus were to be used as a "bioterrorism agent," it would still be a virus, and viruses are not treated with antibiotics — period.

* "WHEREAS a Danish ban on antibiotics in food animals has resulted in little change in animal morbidity and mortality and only a modest increase in production cost."

In the 10 years following Denmark's ban, the amount of antibiotics prescribed by veterinarians to treat diseases in animals raised for food in Denmark doubled. The total amount sold was equal to the amount sold before the ban. Not much was accomplished, was there?

Also, mortality increased significantly, and as a result, many smaller farmers were unable to adapt and went out of business.

Maybe most important, Denmark has not seen a reduction in antibiotic resistance in human health.

* "WHEREAS, the peer-reviewed journal of Clinical Infectious Diseases published a report in 2002 recommending that antimicrobial agents should be ... limited to therapy for diseased individual animals and prophylaxis when disease is documented in a herd or flock."

How can one cite a peer-reviewed journal that calls for antibiotic administration "when disease is documented in a herd or flock" and then call for a ban on the use of antibiotics for "disease prevention"?

Is this typical of Chicago politics?

I am not going to point fingers regarding Burke's politics or past; one can google that information. Suffice it to say, though, as a very young, 24-year-old, Democratic lawyer, Burke became a politico in 1969 when he assumed his father's seat representing the 14th Ward after the elder Burke passed away from cancer.

The Burke family has been in this seat for a very long time, and no one runs against Edward M. Burke in elections. He has been called "the most powerful" council member by the Chicago Sun-Times.

Wouldn't you like to know who put him up to this ordinance and what it was worth to them?

*Dr. Richard Raymond is a former U.S. Department of Agriculture undersecretary for food safety.

Volume:87 Issue:15

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