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Obama Proposes Boost In Funding To Fight Superbugs

File: Grant Gerlock
Harvest Public Media

In the budget President Obama is sending to Congress he’s asking for more than $1 billion to combat antibiotic resistance, and some of that money would focus on animal agriculture.

Antibiotic resistance can make common medications ineffective, meaning sick people don’t get better and doctors have fewer options to treat bacterial infections.  

Among his initiatives to stall this growing problem, Obama proposes sending the Agriculture Department $77 million to find ways to reduce use of antibiotics on the farm. The budget proposal nearly quadruples the current funding designated for such research, according to the White House.

Iowa State veterinary medicine professor Hans Coetzee says the overuse of antimicrobials occurs in humans and other animals.

“We recognize that when both M.D.s and veterinarians are using the same class of drugs to treat disease, that we both have the responsibility to ensure that we’re using those drugs prudently and responsibly,” Coetzee says.

But, he adds, veterinary medical research has been underfunded. The additional commitment to this work, he says, could help veterinarians and scientists discover and develop new ways to care for production animals.

“It would be prudent for us in production agriculture to find ways to minimize the amount of antibiotics used,” he says, “to effectively use the drugs that we have, and then to identify alternatives.”

The use of antibiotics on farm animals accounts for more than half of the antibiotics sold each year in the U.S., according to the Washington Post.

In 2014, the FDA asked pharmaceutical companies to voluntarily phase out the use of antimicrobial drugs that promote growth in livestock. Last year, the American Medical Association called for even tighter rules for using the drugs.

Amy Mayer is a reporter based in Ames. She covers agriculture and is part of the Harvest Public Media collaboration. Amy worked as an independent producer for many years and also previously had stints as weekend news host and reporter at WFCR in Amherst, Massachusetts and as a reporter and host/producer of a weekly call-in health show at KUAC in Fairbanks, Alaska. Amy’s work has earned awards from SPJ, the Alaska Press Club and the Massachusetts/Rhode Island AP. Her stories have aired on NPR news programs such as Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition and on Only A Game, Marketplace and Living on Earth. She produced the 2011 documentary Peace Corps Voices, which aired in over 160 communities across the country and has written for The New York Times, Boston Globe, Real Simple and other print outlets. Amy served on the board of directors of the Association of Independents in Radio from 2008-2015.
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