The Colorado Statesman — Activists urge Bennet to back antibiotics legislation

Activists urge Bennet to back antibiotics legislation


By Rachel Alexander

The Colorado Statesman

Imagine taking a family member to an urgent care clinic for a simple sore throat only to watch them die a few days later.

That was the story told by one of the people who joined Food & Water Watch in a meeting with Sen. Michael Bennet’s staff on Wednesday. The environmentalist group was asking the senator to commit to sponsoring Senate legislation called the Preventing Antibiotic Resistance Act.

Eight people gathered outside the senator’s Denver office after the meeting for a press conference, where they expressed disappointment the senator still hasn’t taken a position on the bill.

Supporters of the Preventing Antibiotic Resistance Act gathered outside Sen. Michael Bennet’s Denver office on June 10 calling on him to sponsor the legislation.

Photo by Rachel Alexander/The Colorado Statesman

“In late December 2013, my completely healthy baby brother, 57 years old, had a little scratchy throat, started feeling sick, went to urgent care,” said Bob James, describing why he became involved on the issue. “He developed some type of infection, MRSA or something that was resistant to any antibiotics, and he passed away within like four days.”

Supporters of the legislation say infections such as the one that killed James’s brother have become more prevalent because industrial meat operations use antibiotics as a preventative for their animals. The prevalence of antibiotics in the food supply has created antibiotic-resistant “superbugs,” they say.

“Antibiotics treat bacterial infections,” states a press release issued by the group. “They are not meant to be used preventively. Yet, 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the United States — the same drugs used to treat bacterial infections in people — are administered improperly to otherwise healthy farm animals in an attempt (to) prevent the spread of diseases exacerbated by overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions. By giving animals low daily doses of antibiotics, factory farm operators create the ideal conditions for ‘superbugs’ — bacteria that gradually build a resistance to antibiotics due to routine exposure.”

James said his family had two autopsies performed on his brother and that neither found any cause for his death other than the infection that failed to respond to antibiotics.

“He was 57 years old, no history of heart disease, no diabetes, no high blood pressure, nothing,” James said. “There wasn’t time. Perhaps if he had lived a week or two or three, perhaps they would have found something. But it just moved so quickly. I don’t want any other family to go through tragedy. That’s something that I don’t want anybody else to have to do.”

Lisa Trope, a Colorado organizer for Food & Water Watch, said the group has been discussing the issue and the legislation with Bennet and his staff for two years.

“We’ve sent in over 2,500 petitions, over 2,300 emails, over 300 phone calls. Every staff that’s relevant to this issue, we’ve met with,” she said.

California Sen. Diane Feinstein, a Democrat, introduced PARA in the Senate on March 2.

The legislation would regulate the use of antibiotics approved for use in the prevention and control of animal diseases, in order to minimize the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

“We asked for a response today, because it’s been two years and we’ve given them plenty of time to look at this legislation,” Trope said. “They basically said that it wasn’t moving at this time and that’s why they weren’t going to do anything about it. Yet we need him to be a public health champion and actually stand up and do something.”

Jeremy George said he was asking the senator to support the legislation because of an antibiotic-resistant infection George contracted several years ago.

“It came upon very aggressively, very suddenly from no open wounds or anything, just doing my job,” he said. “At that time, I was driving a delivery van and my knees contracted something that within a few hours led me to not be able to walk.”

After initially going to urgent care, George said he was in the emergency room twice a day for two weeks receiving shots before being admitted into the hospital. He spent two weeks in the hospital, where doctors were able to find a treatment that was effective. He then spent two weeks at home giving himself IV treatments.

“This is an easy, no-brainer,” he said. “This is the right thing to do. Let’s correct the system.”

“Two million people every year, (according to) the CDC, catch antibiotic-resistant infection,” Trope said. “And 23,000 of these people, in the United States, die from those infections.”

Mike Callicrate, who owns Ranch Foods Direct, said the issue is about fighting industrial agriculture.

“The biggest companies that are controlling the livestock that are being produced for our food have got a model that is a factory-farm, industrial model that has really taken the farmer out and put cheap labor in,” he said. “And to cover the fact that there’s not a husbandman or a steward around, they’ve covered that up with antibiotics, essentially.”

He called antibiotics the Achilles heel of industrial agriculture, adding that the legislation would lead to a more humane way of raising animals and bring more farmers back to the land.

“What we really need Sen. Bennet to do is be a leader,” Callicrate said. “He was elected to be a leader. At yet we have not seen it on these most critical issues. Every now and then a really important issue arises and this antibiotic issue is a seriously important issue.”

“Antibiotic resistance is a serious health concern, and Senator Bennet has been committed to ensuring we have effective prescription drugs to keep Coloradans healthy,” Erin McCann, a Bennet spokesperson, told The Colorado Statesman in an email on Wednesday. “He supports the FDA’s recent efforts to place restrictions on antibiotic use for animals. They are a significant step forward, but we can do more. He is open to other options and is reviewing this bill.”

But Trope and the other supporters believe Bennet should come out in support of the legislation, sooner rather than later.

“We’re definitely frustrated and disappointed with his decision,” Trope said. “We were hoping that he would stand with Coloradans, because to Coloradans this is really a slap in the face, especially for folks who have been directly impacted or had their family be impacted by this.”