Diseases resistant to antibiotics: major threats to food safety and public health
As is well known to the medical community, we face an urgent crisis of antibiotic
resistance. Once considered miracle drugs, antibiotics are becoming less and less
effective at treating infections and disease. Many Americans, including, I would guess,
some in this room, have experienced this problem first hand. Sometimes when drugs
don’t work, it means several days of unnecessary pain and suffering while doctors
figure out that another drug is needed. But increasingly, resistance leads to more dire
consequences. Treating a patient with an ineffective drug can give an infection a
chance to progress to a more serious illness. For cases where none of the available
antibiotics work, resistance becomes a matter of life and death. In addition to rendering
drugs ineffective, resistant strains are often more virulent than their susceptible counterparts.
Antibiotic resistance is of particular concern in terms of food safety. The CDC has found
that half of all human Campylobacter infections2 are drug resistant as are one in five
Salmonella infections.3 Nearly 100,000 of the Salmonella infections would resist
treatment with at least five antibiotics. Salmonella and Campylobacter, the most
common sources of food borne illnesses in the United States, account for well over a
million resistant infections in this country each year.4
Unfortunately, the resistance crisis will not be alleviated by the arrival of new drugs.
The discovery of new classes of antibiotics, once almost a predictable occurrence, has
become frustratingly difficult in recent decades. The unhappy truth is that there are
virtually no new classes of antibiotic drugs in the pipeline.6 Unless we act to preserve
the antibiotics we have, the age of the miracle antibiotics may be coming to an end.
Testimony Before the
House Committee on Rules on
The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act
Margaret Mellon, Ph.D.
Director, Food and Environment Program
Union of Concerned Scientists