The U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) Campus Action, in collaboration with student groups Climate Ambassadors and Wesleyan Democrats, screened “The Trouble of Antibiotics,” a film about the realities of antibiotics use. The film was screened on Oct. 14, in tandem with a Letters to the Editor workshop, in which participants learned how to write effective campaign letters to the media. The film discussed the rise of antibiotic-resistant superbugs as well as the dangerous usage of antibiotics in factory farming.
Throughout the years, antibiotics have been a staple of healthcare. However, at this point, their overuse has been linked to the creation of antibiotic-resistant superbugs. The incidence of these superbugs has increased exponentially, bringing with it media attention and efforts to determine their causes. This rise of superbugs can be linked to the use of antibiotics in the factory farming of livestock.
Rachel Unger ’15, a campus organizer with PIRG Campus Action, is currently working on several campaigns at a community college in Massachusetts. She decided to bring the antibiotics campaign to the University for reasons relating to importance and urgency.
“Antibiotics are being overused in our country, and a large part of that problem is the overuse on factory farms, because 70 percent of the antibiotics sold in our country is going to livestock daily on factory farms,” Unger said. “This is creating antibiotic-resistant superbugs, which can cause illnesses that can’t be cured, and our antibiotics will become ineffective.”
Unger returned to University to spread awareness of antibiotics overuse, and to expose students to a campaign that PIRG campuses across the nation are currently working on.
“PIRG Campus Action is targeting fast food chains and trying to get them to go antibiotic-free, because this will have a big ripple effect on the industry,” Unger said.
She also spoke about the effectiveness of these campaigns.
“Last spring we had a big campaign victory,” Unger said. “We got McDonalds to switch to antibiotic-free chicken, which is really great. As a result of that, Tyson, which is a large poultry producer, decided to stop inappropriate use of antibiotics in their farming.”
Aly Raboff ’16, a member of the Climate Ambassadors, said that the Climate Ambassadors had previous experience with PIRG and this campaign, and understood how effective these campaigns could be.
“[In the spring,] we were a part of PIRG’s photo campaign, against antibiotics in meat at McDonalds,” Raboff said. “Two-and-a-half weeks afterward, they decided to phase out antibiotic use in chicken. And we were part of that campaign, which was cool.”
PIRG Campus Action is an independent student organization that advocates for different environmental and social issues.
“We like to partner with student groups and run cool campaign events to build more awareness of our campaigns and show people what kind of stuff we do, and get more students involved,” Unger said.
After the movie was screened, Unger held a Letter to the Editor training session. She outlined different effective techniques and used the time to write possible letters regarding antibiotics use that could be sent to local media, such as the Middletown Press and the Hartford Courant.
“I thought it was good idea to have some kind of action after, which is why we added on a letters to the editors aspect to the event,” Unger said.
Utilizing past articles published by the Hartford Courant and the Middletown Press by responding to them, the participants at the event brainstormed and wrote several letters that could be sent in.
As a step forward, PIRG is currently targeting Subway and campaigning them to get rid of their antibiotics use in meat.
“Subway is the largest fast food chain in the world, so if they make that switch it’ll have a really big impact,” Unger said. “All across the country our student chapters are doing a lot of grassroots activity, by taking photo petitions of students and Subway customers holding up signs, and we’re tweeting those at Subway.”
She also talked about other student efforts, including making phone calls to Subway, writing Letters to the Editor, and trying to push for a meeting with Subway to sit down and talk about the issue.
“A lot of our schools have also made giant 10-foot long sub props and covered them with signatures from their schools, which we’re going to deliver to Subway so we’re going to get a lot of media attention,” Unger said.
She hopes that the issue will be more widespread throughout the University and that more students will get involved with pertinent issues such as this one.
“I hope that Wesleyan students will just continue to educate others about the issue after seeing the film and learning more about it, and might look more into PIRG Campus Action and other campaigns we’re working on and get involved in the future,” Unger said.
America Morales ’18 said that she enjoyed the film because it showed the serious consequences and often unheard-of consequences of the overuse of antibiotics.
“It makes you think twice about the food we are consuming and how our resistance to antibiotics will affect public health in the future,” said Morales.
Raboff believed that the issue of antibiotics overuse is important and has the possibility to affect everyone.
“[I think it’s important] because it affects everyone, and honestly, it’s terrifying, and everyone should know about it,” she said.