March 18 2013 12:00 AM

Restaurant chain with Lansing-area presence supports campaign against antibiotic overuse in food industry

Monday, May 23 — The extensive use of antibiotics in farm animals has sparked a national debate and a new campaign against the practice has garnered support from at least one local restaurant.

Moms for Antibiotic Awareness — spawned by Washington-based Pew Charitable Trusts in March — is seeking to combat the overuse of antibiotics in animals on industrial farms. Antibiotics are used to promote animal growth and compensate for unsanitary conditions found in industrial animal agriculture. However, critics say it’s leading to antibiotic-resistant infections in humans.

Steve Ells, founder of the international chain of Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurants, is a strong advocate against the overuse of antibiotics in farm animals. The restaurant chain — with two locations in the Lansing area — has not used farm animals fed with antibiotics for the majority of its meat since it began in 1993. All of Chipotle’s chicken and pork is antibiotic-free and raised on sustainable farms.

“It’s part of a philosophy: Food with integrity,” said Crickett Karson, spokesman for the Great Lakes Region of Chipotle. “Chipotle serves over 100 million pounds of naturally raised meat. That is more naturally raised meat than any other restaurant in the country.”

Chipotle has two locations in the greater Lansing area: 539 E. Grand River Ave. in East Lansing and 5330 W. Saginaw Highway in the Lansing Mall.

The restaurant’s use of antibiotic-free meat is part of the larger issue of the overuse of antibiotics in farm animals.

Too many antibiotics in farm animals can have potential negative health effects on humans. It can create resistance to antibiotics used to treat MRSA — or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus — a staph infection that can cause serious skin infections, infect surgical wounds, the bloodstream, the lungs or the urinary tract.

Jennie Finks, a Lansing-based expert on antibiotic-resistant bacteria and unit manager for the Surveillance for Healthcare Associated and Resistant Pathogens, said humans develop resistance to antibiotics in a variety of ways.

“It varies depending on the organism and antibiotic. We all adapt to things we are exposed to. So bacteria will just develop resistance. It can happen in a lot of different ways — mutation, changes in their DNA. The more bacteria are exposed to antibiotics, the more it is likely to change,” she said.

The SHARP Unit is based in Lansing and oversees Michigan’s health-care associated infections, or HAIs. HAIs are an infection that patients acquire while in a health care setting like a hospital or other medical facility. MRSA is a type of bacteria that is known to cause HAIs.

Moms for Antibiotic Awareness is hoping to rebuild support for federal legislation called the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, which was introduced by a New York Democrat in 2009 but died in committee. The bill would require the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to review its approvals previously issued for animal feed uses of the seven classes of antibiotics that are important to human medicine. The approvals would be canceled for any antibiotics that are found to be unsafe from a resistance point of view.

Pew has received the support of Ells for the pending bill.

“Before this was even on anyone’s radar, Chipotle was seeking meat raised without antibiotics,” said Laura Rogers, a project director at Pew who oversees the Moms for Antibiotic Awareness campaign.