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 Public Policy Teach-In

Antibiotics and Your Dinner Plate

Antibiotic resistant bacteria – “super bacteria” – what does this mean for our health and the health of livestock, and what can any of us do about it?

Saturday at 2 p.m. on the Spotlight Stage

Antibiotic resistance is a major national and global health concern. Eighty percent of all antibiotics used in the United States are fed to farm animals. Especially on confinement farms and feedlots, livestock get non-therapeutic doses of antibiotics to boost growth and prevent health problems that come with overcrowded conditions.
 
The widespread and continual use of antibiotics in livestock production is contributing significantly to the increase in bacterial resistance to antibiotics, not only in animals but also in humans. And this bacterial resistance often confounds the ability of healthcare providers to help their patients. According to the Centers for Disease Control, “there were an estimated 722,000 healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) in U.S acute care hospitals in 2011. About 75,000 hospital patients with HAIs died during their hospitalizations.” The National Academy of Sciences reported that "a decrease in antimicrobial use in human medicine alone will have little effect on the current situation.
 
Substantial efforts must be made to decrease inappropriate overuse in animals and agriculture as well." The Food and Drug Administration recently issued voluntary guidelines for livestock producers focusing on nontherapeutic uses.

Consumers have a lot of power. We cannot buy our way out of this problem – it lives all around us – but consumers have the power to push back against the pervasive practice of nontherapeutic doses of antibiotics. In Maine we have the opportunity to know our farmers and to know our food. Maine has no meat-producing confinement farms, so buying local can be your act to push back on nontherapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock farming. Organic farming rules prohibit the use of antibiotics in livestock. Buying local, certified organic meat assures that you are consuming antibiotic-free meat.

Join us for an informative panel discussion on Saturday at 2 p.m. in the Spotlight Stage Tent. Panelists will address the following questions:
  • Why and how are antibiotics used in meat and dairy production facilities?
  • What do food labels really tell you about what is in your food?
  • How do certified organic farmers treat their livestock?
  • What can we do to reduce antibiotic use in livestock?
  • Where can we find local and organic meat in Maine?

 

About the speakers:

Stephen Sears, M.D., M.P.H., is chief of staff and a member of the senior management team (Quadrad) at VA Maine Healthcare System (Togus). His responsibilities include strategic planning and improving access and quality of medical care services for veterans in Maine. Dr. Sears most recently served as the state epidemiologist for Maine. Prior experience includes senior management positions at both Mercy Health System and MaineGeneral Health. Dr. Sears received his medical degree from Dartmouth Medical School and a Master of Public Health degree from Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health. He is an infectious disease physician by training and has combined a career of both clinical and administrative medicine. He has been active on many volunteer boards focused on public health in Maine.

Don Hoenig, D.V.M., was Maine’s state veterinarian for most of his career, overseeing all livestock and poultry health, especially diseases relating to human health. His work integrated animal health, public health and environmental stewardship. Farmers across the state have enormous respect for the assistance that Dr. Hoenig provided to incorporate economical and successful strategies to maintain livestock health. Dr. Hoenig, now retired from the state veterinarian post, continues to consult with Maine farmers and raise public awareness of problems associated with overuse of antibiotics in livestock. Dr. Hoenig also served as an American Veterinary Medical Association congressional fellow in the office of Senator Susan Collins and now serves as the chief veterinary advisor for the American Humane Association’s Humane Heartland program.

Jennifer Obadia, Ph.D., is a New England coordinator for the Healthy Food in Health Care Program of the global coalition Health Care Without Harm. Obadia conducts research with Farm-to-Institution New England and coordinates the Massachusetts Convergence Partnership. She has years of experience in community-based education and food access programs. With degrees in sustainable development, conservation biology and nutrition, she has conducted research on the Healthy Corner Store and managed the Boston Bounty Bucks farmers’ market incentive program. A major initiative of Health Care Without Harm is reduction of antibiotic use in animal agriculture.

Alice Percy, with her husband, Rufus, operates MOFGA certified organic Treble Ridge Farm in Whitefield, where they raise pigs, make hay and grow grain, vegetables and strawberries. An advocate for organic farmers, Percy graduated from Colby College with a degree in environmental science. She is vice president of the MOFGA board of directors and has served on MOFGA’s Public Policy Committee for many years, focusing much of her volunteer time reporting on the work of Maine’s Board of Pesticides Control.

Our moderator, Nancy Ross, Ph.D., is a member of MOFGA’s Public Policy Committee. She served as executive director of MOFGA from 1987 to 1995. Her planning and analytical background and her expertise in communications have served MOFGA well through much of its history. Dr. Ross earned a Ph.D. in agriculture, food and environment at Tufts University and taught environmental policy at Unity College, retiring in 2013.

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