CITY HALL — Too many chefs might spoil the broth, but when it comes to discouraging the use of antibiotics with livestock, there are apparently never too many.
More than a dozen top Chicago chefs joined Ald. Edward Burke (14th) Tuesday in calling on Congress to ban giving non-therapeutic antibiotics to livestock. Burke has sponsored a resolution backing federal legislation to "ban the use of non-therapeutic antibiotics in the production of livestock."
The Finance Committee, with Burke as chairman, passed the resolution Tuesday, and it heads for passage before the full council Wednesday.
Dr. Bechara Choucair, the city's commissioner of public health, said the danger of overusing antibiotics with humans, thus producing drug-resistant strains of bacteria, was well known, but the overuse of antibiotics in meat and poultry is equally harmful. The effect is the same, he said, when humans ingest meat or poultry treated with antibiotics.
"The growing use and misuse of antibiotics accelerate the emergence of strains that are resistant to antibiotics," Choucair said. He added that, in 2011, 80 percent of all U.S. antibiotics, by weight, went to livestock.
His Department of Public Health colleague Dr. Stephanie Black said it produced "nightmare bacteria" and pointed to how cases of drug-resistant salmonella, for instance, had risen in recent years.
"Antibiotic overuse anywhere increases resistance everywhere," added Susan Vaughn Grooters of the health coalition Keep Antibiotics Working.
Speaking on behalf of the Green Chicago Restaurant Coalition, restaurateur Ina Pinkney, the so-called Breakfast Queen of her now-closed Near West Side restaurant Ina's, said chefs were united in pushing for a safer, healthier food stream. She compared it to the chefs' support for the indoor smoking ban in 2005.
"I'm pleased to be joined by so many well-respected chefs," Burke said.
Other chefs supporting the resolution included Rick Bayless of Xoco, Frontera Grill and Topolobampo; Amy Morton of Found Kitchen; Bruce Sherman of North Pond Cafe and Cleetus Friedman of Fountainhead, among others.
The actual resolution calls on Congress to pass the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act in the U.S. House and the Prevention of Antibiotic Resistance Act in the Senate. According to Burke, the livestock industry uses antibiotics to promote growth and prevent disease in crowded, unsanitary conditions.
"Chicago's leadership is needed to address this problem," Burke said.
Burke said the Illinois Pork Producers Association and the Illinois Farm Bureau had submitted a statement opposing the resolution. The National Pork Producers Council "strongly opposes" the bills.
A letter sent to the council by Pork Producers President Todd Dail and Farm Bureau President Rich Guebert Jr. said: "Our organizations represent livestock farmers throughout Illinois who take the use of antibiotics very seriously. Nothing is more important to them than public health, animal health and well-being and a safe food supply."
The letter added that there are "many built-in safeguards" to the system and called into question the statistic mentioned by Choucair that 80 percent of antibiotics go to livestock.
In a news conference at City Hall before the Finance Committee meeting, Burke acknowledged that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer and would undergo surgery on Thursday. He said the prognosis for a full recovery was good, and asked that otherwise his privacy be respected.
Burke would not comment on whether that would affect his decision whether or not to seek re-election next year. He is the senior member of the City Council, having served as alderman since 1969.
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