In the wake of campuswide engagement in campaigns to end the practice, Yale students and faculty have applauded fast food chain KFC’s recent decision to stop purchasing chicken raised with antibiotics that have the potential to impact human health.
KFC’s announcement on April 7 signals a major shift away from the routine use of medically important antibiotics in the U.S. poultry industry. The decision has received support among members of the Yale community who worked to raise awareness of the problem of antibiotic resistance, including student involved in the Connecticut branch of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and Yale faculty teaching about the issue in their courses.
“Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem that poses a severe threat to human health,” said Nicholas Bennett, the co-director of Antimicrobial Stewardship at the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. “The commitment from KFC is an important step towards preserving the efficacy of these drugs for both present and future generations.”
The challenge of antibiotic resistance has been addressed by both students and faculty from various departments at Yale. Last fall, the Yale Student Environmental Coalition hosted a panel debate on antibiotic resistance, according to Joshua Monrad ’20, a panel attendee. The event featured Yale faculty and representatives from the food industry for a debate on the overuse of antibiotics and its consequences for public health.
One of the panel’s organizers, Shoshanna Goldin SPH ’17, who also interned at the United Nations’ summit on antimicrobial resistance in 2016, said KFC’s announcement was a major milestone for activists hoping to conduct further research about antibiotic resistance.
Monrad said the panel inspired him to join the U.S. PIRG campaign to end the overuse of antibiotics in food production. He added that this group has made significant efforts to leverage widespread consumer support for KFC to stop its overuse.
Robert Bazell, a professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology, emphasized the value of local campaigns in contributing to KFC’s decision, including the one driven by U.S. PIRG.
“Public health communication is often carried out over the long term, leading to incremental changes,” said Bazell, the former chief science and health correspondent at NBC News. “So, it has been interesting to see how this campaign has managed to use public communications to bring about such sudden and significant results.”
In his course “Public Health Communications,” Bazell used the antibiotics campaign by ConnPIRG, the Connecticut branch of U.S. PIRG, as a case example. Bella Kotlyar SOM ’19 SPH ’19, a student in the course who worked with the ConnPIRG campaign for her final project, said that learning about the organization’s various public health communication strategies — from call-to-action emails to extensive social media campaigns — has shed light on how powerful such media can be.
“We, as consumers, have a voice thanks to organizations like this, and we can generate change, even when large corporations have conflicting interests,” Kotlyar said. “The KFC story is proof of that.”
Jorge De Vincente FES ’16, a researcher at the Environmental Protection Clinic at Yale Law School, similarly noted that raising public awareness of antibiotic resistance can result in policy changes.
De Vincente, who studies the negative environmental, health and socioeconomic impacts of industrial salmon farming in Chile, said antibiotic resistance is a global issue.
He said that to solve the issue, it is necessary to look beyond American agriculture. De Vincente added that his project with the Environmental Protection Clinic and the conservation nonprofit Ecoceanos increases awareness in both U.S. and Chilean consumers about the public health risks associated with the overuse of antibiotics in Chilean production of Atlantic salmon.
William Summers, emeritus professor in the History of Medicine and Science, noted that the importance of solving the issue of antibiotic resistance cannot be overstated. He added that the recent rise in antibiotic resistance poses an immense challenge to the entire field of modern medicine.
“When antibiotics were introduced, it was a game changer. We went from watchful waiting to successful intervention,” Summers said. “With the rise of antibiotic resistance, we are going back to the bad old days, where a small wound can become a life-threatening thing.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, two million Americans are infected with resistant bacteria every year, resulting in 23,000 deaths.