Flipping through two popular women’s magazines — SELF and Redbook — recently, I was disturbed to find articles featuring animal agriculture, where livestock producers were blamed for creating superbugs, breeding disease and causing antibiotic resistance. According an article titled, “How Farms Contribute To Superbugs,” featured in Redbook: “Antibiotics are given to cows, chickens, and pigs — and it’s hurting everyone’s health. Farmers feed their herds antibiotics, and not just when they’re sick. On factory farms, for example, healthy broiler chickens ingest small doses of antibiotics (the same ones we need to cure human diseases) in their food daily to help them grow faster and prevent them from getting sick. Because the doses are so low, the antibiotics don’t kill bacteria. Instead, the germs develop resistance. Then the bugs are passed to humans. Farming-industry groups point out that this practice is approved by the Food and Drug Administration. But, there has been some news on that front recently: The FDA has announced it’s working with drug companies and farmers to phase out the use of antibiotics for growth promotion over the next few years. Their aim is to require a vet’s assessment to dole out meds.” A second article, “Warnings: There Could Be Superbugs In Your Dinner,” found in SELF reads: “Let’s run through the stats: Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control was tracking an outbreak that sickened 20 people, mostly in New England, from drug-resistant salmonella linked to ground beef. Last year, 136 people in 34 states were made sick by resistant salmonella tied to ground turkey, and 12 people in 10 states were made ill by resistant salmonella associated with premade turkey burgers. A strain of drug-resistant E. coli on salad sprouts sickened nearly 3,900 people in Europe last summer, including six Americans, one of whom died. There were three known foodborne superbug outbreaks in 2009; two in 2007; and one in 2004—caused by shrimp contaminated with drug-resistant E. coli—that had 130 known victims. Although the link between farm-bred superbugs and stomach illness is most clear, researchers worry that food may be transmitting other illness as well, including drug-resistant infections of the skin, urinary tract and blood.” While these articles point out a growing problem we can’t deny – antibiotic-resistant bacteria, the link to animal agriculture isn’t clear. Sure, humans and animals use similar medicines, like penicillin and tetracycline for example, but ranchers use antibiotics judiciously to prevent the spread of disease and to maintain optimal health in their animals. Recently, the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance hosted an online table discussion about the use of antibiotics in livestock production to help alleviate consumer concerns on this topic. They provided excellent information about antibiotics, and they offer great resources on their website. Here are a few facts about antibiotics in animal agriculture:
“First, producers consult with veterinarians about antibiotic use. In fact, veterinarian involvement is mandated for all antibiotics approved since 1988. Second, meat and poultry for food are rigorously monitored by law. Meat and poultry for human consumption must pass inspection and monitoring by the Food Safety Inspection Service under the Federal Meat Inspection Act. Third, many antibiotics sold for animal use are not used to treat humans. According to FDA statistics, 35% of antibiotics sold for animal use are in classes not used in human medicine. And all antibiotics are carefully examined for any human health implications before they are approved and incorporated into labeling. This means they have no possibility of contributing to antibiotic resistance bacteria in people. Finally, no cases of animal antibiotic use leading to antibiotic-resistant superbugs: There has been no proven link to antibiotic treatment failure in humans due to antibiotics used in animals for consumption.”
For additional facts, check out http://www.fooddialogues.com/2012/03/28/overview-antibiotics-use-in-animals-raised-for-food
Without a doubt, this discussion on antibiotic resistance and superbugs isn’t going away. If consumers link human health to animal agriculture, it will certainly change the way we use pharmaceutical items in the livestock industry.
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A new book describing the events leading up to the Beef Checkoff’s implementation and outlining a vast number of happenings since then has caused quite a stir.