When scientists confront a problem, they need to compile all the data possible to come up with a solution. But in the case of antibiotic resistance, we’ve got an information hoarder on our hands. The agriculture industry doesn’t want to share their drug use practices, and the FDA – as the information gatekeeper – won’t release the goods.
The Food Integrity Campaign’s legal team has been in an ongoing battle with FDA over the release of antibiotic use data that could be key in establishing solutions to this serious public health challenge – made only more challenging by industry secrecy. Experts vouch for the importance of this data to be publicly available, yet the agency continues to yield to Big Ag.
As FDA veteran Dr. Michael Blackwell put it: “In order to make better decisions as healthcare professionals, we need information.” He is one of several experts (in fields ranging from veterinary medicine to agriculture economics) who have stepped forward in support of our lawsuit against the FDA and its lack of transparency regarding antibiotic use.
Dr. Blackwell, who worked at FDA for 20 years (including as the Deputy Director of the Center for Veterinary Medicine), says that the government over interprets the protection of privacy. “At some point we do it to the detriment of the entire nation,” he states.
Evidenced by countless attempts to silence truth-tellers via Ag Gag bills and various forms of whistleblower retaliation, Big Ag would keep everything it does private if it could. Specific drug sales data and how the drugs are distributed among animals raised for food apparently have prime spots on industry’s secret proprietary information list. Unfortunately, FDA is fearful of tripping over that line and helps keep this vital data under lock and key.
According to Dr. Blackwell, releasing antibiotic use information won’t damage the industry like it wants you to believe. Companies “pay plenty of attention to one another’s activities that I don’t see where we can possibly be doing any harm just because FDA releases a little more information. It’s laughable and sad.”
What FIC’s lawsuit aims to do and what Dr. Blackwell and others agree is actually needed is for FDA to release more details that can assist those involved in public health work to understand what is going on. Only then can we begin to adequately address the complexity that is antibiotic resistance.
“Not only do people in medicine and public health need this information,” says Dr. Blackwell. “But consumers as well, especially when we’re talking about food safety and in light of a growing threat to their wellbeing. They have a right know.”
Sarah Damian is Communications Manager for the Food Integrity Campaign.