Antibiotics Are Failing and It’s Not a Pretty Picture
By Walker Foley
Before you continue reading this post, check this out. Food & Water Watch’s infographic colorfully explains how antibiotics get into our foods and make Americans sick.
Don’t let those bright pastels fool you; the factory-farmed meat industry is cooking up a sci-fi thriller that endangers the health of every American while the FDA sits on the sidelines and watches. Food & Water Watch released a new report last week that examines the growing overuse and abuse of antibiotics on factory farms. Simply put, factory farms are breeding resistant bacteria that are making their way into our meat and environment and contributing to making antibiotics ineffective. Read the full report for the meat and potatoes of this issue, but here are a few facts to get you started:
ONE: Misuse of Antibiotics
80 percent of antibiotics sold in the United States are used for agricultural purposes. Against the warnings of the American Public Health Association, the American Medical Association, the Infectious Disease Society of America and the World Health Organization — really, the list goes on and on — it’s common practice on factory farms to routinely give low dosages of antibiotics to healthy livestock, to prevent disease and promote growth. This process is commonly referred to as subtherapeutic use, because the drugs aren’t being used to treat sick animals.
TWO: Life (Bacteria) Finds a Way
When bacteria are repeatedly exposed to low doses of an antibiotic, plenty of strong bacteria still survive the exposure and go on to reproduce more bacteria just like it. The bacteria that survive are antibiotic-resistant, and can pass their toughened genes on to other bacteria as well (See step two on the infographic). The danger comes when these bacteria remain in meat that you buy at a grocery store or restaurant, or are released into the environment via livestock waste.
THREE: Superbugs Proliferate in the Food System
Data from the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS) shows superbugs becoming more widespread in the food system. NARMS’ 2010 data is shocking. In samples taken from four major U.S. meat products, AR E. coli was present in 66 percent of ground turkey, 52 percent of chicken breasts, 20 percent of pork chops and 14 percent of ground beef. Foodborne illnesses on average hospitalize 128,000 Americans, and are the cause of death for 3,000 more. When antibiotic-resistant bacteria are the cause of food-borne illness, people get sicker and are more likely to require a hospital stay. Medical authorities are already warning that human medicine is losing effectiveness against these superbugs and there are very few new drugs in development.
FOUR: Voluntary Regulations Won’t Work
While acknowledging the challenge of antibiotic-resistance, FDA’s approach to regulating antibiotics in livestock has been largely voluntary. FDA has banned the use of one class of antibiotics, fluoroquinolones, in livestock and limited the subtherapeutic use of another class, cephalosporins, but have stalled on such efforts on other classes of antibiotics, insisting that the still-pending voluntary measures will suffice.
Our current food system is breeding a biological nightmare, resistant to modern medicine, and delivering it to our dinner tables. Please, read the full report to learn more, and call your Congressional representatives and ask them to support Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA) which would ban subtherapeutic use in livestock.
For a printable PDF of our infographic, click here.