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Congress’ Microbiologist Refuses to Give Up Antibiotic Fight

Rep. Louise M. Slaughter is not a runner, but she shares a marathoner’s philosophy when it comes to legislation: She’s in it for the long haul.

It took several years for her to get a ban on genetic discrimination signed into law in 2008. Slaughter said she worked six years before a shift in congressional sentiments and public pressure led to passage of a version of her bill to limit congressional use of insider information to trade on the stock market.

So the New York Democrat shrugs off the fact that her legislation to restrict the livestock and poultry industries’ use of antibiotics has yet to make it to the floor in three Congresses.

“This is child’s play for me,” Slaughter told an audience at a meeting she convened that featured Tennessee Titans linebacker Will Witherspoon, who raises cattle with limited use of antibiotics.

Slaughter took up the antibiotics issue because it deals with one of her first loves and interests: bacteria. In fact, her master’s thesis was on the overuse of antibiotics. While there are several lawmakers with science backgrounds, Slaughter is the only microbiologist in the House. She makes frequent reference to her health training in the news conferences and events she has held to spotlight what she sees as a major contributor to a growing public health problem.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the prevalence of disease-causing bacteria that can survive antibiotic treatment is growing. For example, common urinary tract infections are proving more difficult to control because of the immunity that some bacteria have developed to commonly used drugs.

Doctors and their patients have contributed to the situation by overusing antibiotics, the CDC and other health organizations say. But Slaughter and the groups say the livestock industry’s use of antibiotics is another contributor to resistant bacteria because some drugs are used for both humans and animals. Slaughter said the antibiotics, which are often mixed in feed, have been overused to help animals gain weight for market and prevent illnesses.

Slaughter said she will continue conducting a high-profile campaign to get her legislation passed. An Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on the bill would be nice, she said, but she plans to find a way to move the bill if it takes another Congress or two.

“It moves slowly but it moves. My philosophy is always that you don’t stop when you’re gaining ground,” Slaughter said.

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