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Eight moms leading the fight to save antibiotics

By Anya Vanecek
Public Health Digital Campaigner

Happy Mother’s Day!

Today, we’re thanking eight mothers working to stop superbugs in their tracks. The overuse of antibiotics is driving one of the most pressing public health crises of our time. These moms have all taken action to change widespread overuse, and in so doing, are protecting our families today and for generations to come.

Without further ado, here they are:

Suzanne Greco, CEO, Subway – Last fall, Suzanne Greco took the reins of the most widespread fast food chain in the world and quickly changed the chain’s meat supply for the better. Under her guidance, Subway set one of the strongest corporate commitments to phase out the use of antibiotics from its entire meat supply. The sandwich chain has already begun its transition with the Rotisserie Chicken Sandwich. By the end of this year, all of Subway’s chicken and turkey will be raised without routine antibiotics. Greco’s actions are dramatically increasing the market demand for meat that better protects public health.
 
Nicolette Hahn Niman, Writer, Activist, and Rancher – Of the many family farmers that raise their livestock and poultry without the routine use of antibiotics, perhaps none is better known than the Nimans. Nicolette Niman is herself a prominent sustainable food advocate, having written numerous articles in the likes of the New York Times and blogging regularly for the Atlantic. The overuse of antibiotics is only one problem with the industrial food system Niman highlights in her work, but there’s little doubt her work as both a writer and a rancher has significantly influenced the changing landscape of American agriculture.
 
Lorna Wilson, Co-owner of Seven W Farms – As co-owners of Seven W Farm in Iowa, Lorna Wilson and her husband were honored this year with a Sustainable Agriculture Achievement Award from the Practical Farmers of Iowa, and it’s clear why. Wilson’s animals include free-range chickens, grass-fed cows, and pigs raised without antibiotics. Family farms focused on responsible animal-raising practices like Seven W’s remain the agricultural cream of the crop, so to speak, and prove that these practices are not only good for public health, they’re also good business.
 
Sarah Parker, Medical Director of the Antimicrobial Stewardship Program at Colorado Children’s Hospital – Sarah Parker’s love of children is both expressed and evident in her work. As a pediatrician, Dr. Parker directs Colorado Children’s Hospital’s Antimicrobial Stewardship Program and is a leader in efforts to improve antibiotic prescribing practices in hospital settings. Indeed, saving antibiotics will require concerted action in a variety of fields -- not just farming. By devoting her career in part to preserving our life-saving medicines, Dr. Parker is helping to ensure that antibiotics remain effective for her daughter’s generation, and those to come.
 
Emily Rusch, Executive Director, CALPIRG – Last year, California became the first state in the nation to ban the routine use of antibiotics on livestock and poultry. Emily Rusch was on the front lines of that achievement. Using grassroots organizing, mainstream and social media, and lobbying, Emily was a leader in getting California to pass this landmark legislation. Now, in addition to making sure the law is implemented, she’s working on her next effort: getting In-N-Out, a major burger chain in the West, to set a timeline for serving meat raised without the routine use of antibiotics.
 
Lena Brook, Food Policy Advocate at NRDC Food and Agriculture – Lena leads the efforts of the Natural Resources Defense Council in getting major restaurant chains to take action on antibiotic overuse. The theory is simple enough: if major chains serve meat from farms that do not overuse antibiotics, then the large farming operations that supply their meat will need to change or lose a major customer. It’s working. After coordinated advocacy by the NRDC, U.S. PIRG, and others, McDonald’s made a major commitment to serve chicken raised without medically-important antibiotics. Less than two months later, Tyson Foods, a major chicken supplier to McDonald’s, did the same.
 
Senator Dianne Feinstein(CA) and Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (NY) – Current Food and Drug Administration guidelines intended to stem the overuse of antibiotics lack impact -- not so these two moms. Recognizing the severity of the oncoming antibiotics crisis, these two have both introduced legislation to tackle the overuse of antibiotics on factory farms head-on. Unlike the current voluntary federal guidelines, these two bills, if passed, would prohibit routine uses of antibiotics on livestock and poultry. Although success in Washington, DC, will take time, due to the influence of Big Ag and Pharma, we need legislative champions to introduce bills, elevate the issues, and push for solutions. That’s exactly what these two are doing.

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Thank you to all of these moms, and the many others who are working on this important public health issue! If you have suggestions of others who deserve a place on this list, please send their story our way at anya@pirg.org. The World Health Organization has stated that solving this issue will take “urgent coordinated action,” and we’ll work to highlight these efforts in posts to come!

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