No, it's not a new drug. It's more policy.
Antibiotic resistance is nothing new. The rogues gallery of superbugs continues to grow, with major concerns around antibiotic-resistant Salmonella Typhi, antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea, carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), multidrug-resistant Tuberculosis, and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
The CDC estimates that antibiotic-resistant bacteria cause two million illnesses and 23,000 deaths in the U.S. every year, and cost at least $20 billion in direct health care costs and up to $35 billion in lost productivity.
So what's happening in response? In September of last year the President signed an Executive Order to combat antibiotic resistance. Earlier this year the Administration released a National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic Resistant-Bacteria. And the President's Budget for 2016 proposes increasing federal funding to combat antibiotic resistance to more than $1.2 billion, which almost doubles previous funding for these initiatives.
Businesses have also started responding to concerns about antibiotic resistance through changes in their policies. Last week, in response to consumer demand, Walmart released its Position on Responsible Use of Antibiotics in Farm Animals. The position statement asks its meat, seafood, deli, dairy, and egg suppliers to stop using antibiotics for growth promotion, adopt and implement guidelines on use of antibiotics, and publicly report antibiotic use on an annual basis. As the largest food retailer in the U.S., controlling about 25% of the of the grocery market, Walmart's position on antibiotic use is expected to have a big impact on the food industry.
Other major players in the food industry have also taken positions to combat antibiotic resistance. In March, McDonald's announced that by March 2017 it will stop using chicken raised with antibiotics that are important to humans. In April, Tyson Foods made the same commitment, to be fulfilled by September 2017.
Is this the whole solution? No. But it could be the beginning of something good. Increased federal funding, comprehensive federal action plans, thoughtful business policies, and consumer interest are all major components in addressing an issue of crucial importance to the health of every American.
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