Meet Lance Price, professor at the George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health and the founding director of GW’s Antibiotic Resistance Action Center. Dr. Price works at the interface between science and policy. We caught up with him to get the latest on the crisis of antibiotic resistance.
Applegate: We all could use some good news right now. Any positive news on the antibiotic resistance front?
Lance Price: We've seen little victories and those have been in human medicine. Early in the COVID-19 pandemic we saw doctors giving just about every sick patient antibiotics, even though the vast majority did not need the drugs. This seems to have been reined in so that's good news. Taking an antibiotic when you don't need one is just bad all around. It's bad for the patient as antibiotics can have unpleasant and dangerous side effects. And it's bad for society: every time antibiotics are used, their future effectiveness gets diminished so it's really important to only take them when needed.
Applegate: What's the most important thing the government can do to limit the use of antibiotics on the farm? (And any chance that will happen?)
Lance Price: Up until 2017, we allowed the use of antibiotics to help animals grow faster, an incredibly irresponsible use of life-saving antibiotics. That’s when the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) passed a rule to remove those uses. Unfortunately, they left a huge loophole in place. Many drugs approved for growth promotion are also approved at the same dose for prevention purposes -- meaning industrial farms can still use the drugs for growth promotion purposes, but call it something else: prevention.
Our Center calls for the end to all routine uses of antibiotics in industrial farming. We believe antibiotics should only be used when animals have been diagnosed with bacterial disease by a veterinarian (or to control disease in animals exposed to infectious bacteria). Unfortunately, it does not appear that the FDA will work aggressively to close this loophole.
Applegate: Well, that's worrisome. Is there anything I, as an individual, can do?
Lance Price: Yes! If you are able, send a clear signal to meat producing companies by purchasing meat and poultry products raised with responsible antibiotic use -- like the ones Applegate produces! There are several labels you can look for in grocery stores: Organic, Raised Without Antibiotics and No Antibiotics Ever. It’s confusing so we created a video that helps consumers navigate meat labels.