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Mae Wu’s Blog

How Will the Senate Health Committee's Three-Act Play End? You Decide!

Mae Wu

Posted March 18, 2013 in Health and the Environment, U.S. Law and Policy

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comedy tragedy masks.jpg

We’ve got front row tickets to a three act play being put on by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and so far it would be comical if it weren’t so sad.

Act One: The Farce took place a couple of weeks at the hearing on ADUFA where no mention of antibiotic resistance – or health at all – came up.

Since that hearing, scores of people have been prodding and pushing members of the Committee to improve the transparency of data on antibiotics use in livestock. The vast majority of antibiotics sold in this country are for use in animals. We need better information about those sales (data that FDA already has) to track the trends in antibiotic resistence and the success of efforts to stop the problem. Senators Gillibrand and Feinstein worked diligently to develop a very modest proposal to release this data to the public: a small, easy, necessary step towards controlling the public health crisis of rising antibiotic resistant bacteria. At the same time, public health groups have been begging for the committee to consider voices outside of the industry in deciding how to act.

Sadly, Act Two ends with the Senate HELP Committee summarily rejecting those efforts with the release of its version of the Animal Drug User Fee Act with no mention about data on antibiotics used in animals. The message from the committee is loud and clear: the public health concerns don’t matter in Washington. In fact, calls and letters urging the Senate Committee to support better transparency for antibiotics used on livestock came in, and the committee’s only response was: STAND DOWN.

Are we supposed to stand down as we face “the end of modern medicine as we know it”? Are we supposed to stand down on calling for FDA to report information it already has to help us better address this “apocalyptic scenario”? Are we supposed to stand down, when the experts are telling us that “[t]hings as common as strep throat or a child’s scratched knee could once again kill.”

We are sitting on the precipice and risk falling back into the medical dark ages. The loss of antibiotics doesn’t just mean being terrified anytime your child gets a cough. It has serious implications for the feasibility of some pretty major medical advances like organ transplants, aggressive chemotherapy, and care of premature infants.

Senator Gillibrand and Senator Feinstein have the courage of their convictions to fight for this simple step towards combating a terrifying crisis and prevent us from living a Greek tragedy.  We need more Senators to join them in fighting for our health. Act Three takes place on Wednesday when the HELP Committee votes on this bill. Now is the time for you to tell Senators that they must demand better transparency, or in the absence of such transparency, they must oppose the bill moving forward. Let’s turn this plot around. Call your senator and demand that he or she STAND UP for public health.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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