By SABRINA CHEN For The News-Letter
Two dozen students listened intently as Ellen Sibergeld, a professor at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, discussed how the subtherapeutic use of antibiotics in animals as a preventative measure raised for consumption could be hazardous to human health. Sibergeld, along with Claire Fitch from the Center for Livable Future, spoke Nov. 12 on a panel to spread awareness about the overuse of antibiotics. The event was organized by sophomore Sara Kim, who is interning at Maryland Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), a nonprofit that runs grassroots campaigns. “It was my first time organizing a panel event like this where the speakers talk,” Kim said, “So it was very important for me to contact them regularly and meet them face-to-face to get an idea of what they were going to say.” She began working with Evi Lowman, campaign organizer of Maryland PIRG, to plan the event starting in early September. “We wanted to do something on the Johns Hopkins campus because it’s such a great environment, with the school of public health and a lot of other people who work with these issues,” Lowman said. “This event is all about raising awareness about the issue because people talk about the overuse of antibiotics frequently in the medical community but not so much in livestock and poultry.” After organizing and inviting speakers for the event, Kim went on to advertise the panel through Facebook and the Public Health Weekly Newsletter. Students for Environmental Action and Real Food Hopkins co-sponsored the event. Lowman noted that Maryland PIRG works on the issue of the overuse of antibiotics on two distinct levels. “We are working on a national level to get restaurants to stop serving meat raised with routine antibiotics and on a state level to pass a bill in Maryland to stop the nontherapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock and poultry,” Lowman said. Junior Zoey Demko, who attended the event, said that the panel was extremely informative and that the event was run professionally. “I, as someone who knows a lot about the topic, still gleaned a lot of information from the specialists,” Demko said. “It was really engaging — the panelists were really strong in their opinions.” The panel was followed by a question-and-answer sessions and the showing of a short film from Frontline about the impact of antibiotic use in animal food production and the ongoing scientific and clinical debate. It is estimated that 15 to 17 million pounds of antibiotics are used subtherapeutically each year in the United States in order to make animals gain weight faster. There is evidence that antibiotics kill bacteria that live in animals’ intestines, allowing them to consume food more efficiently. The problem with the subtherapeutic use of antibiotics in food animals is that if an animal is treated repeatedly with a certain antibiotic drug, the bacteria living in the animal will, in time, become resistant to that drug. Therefore, if a person ingests the resistant bacteria by eating the animal, he or she may acquire the resistance as well and not respond to future antibiotic treatment. Many countries in Europe have banned subtherapeutic use of antibiotics, and health experts in the U.S. are working to find conclusive evidence directly linking use of drugs in food animals to an increase in drug-resistant bacteria. Lowman says that concerned students should be conscious of their purchases. “What’s important for students to do? As consumers, be aware of what you are buying and how your food is being produced,” she said.