Our love of meat is killing us in more ways than one. But get pumped, everyone: The Centers for Disease Control has dubbed this “Get Smart About Antibiotics Week”! And while we may be late to the party, we’re excitedly tucking our pants into our boots and heading down to the farm. The factory farm, that is, where (amongst the other usual horrors) rampant antibiotic usage in livestock is threatening the efficacy of the drugs on humans.
In its statement about the week [PDF], the CDC specifically pledges:
To work with regulatory, veterinary and industry partners to promote the judicious use of antibiotics in food animals
To reinforce the judicious use of antibiotics in agriculture by: limiting the use of medically important human antibiotics in food animals; supporting the use of such antibiotics in animals only for those uses that are considered necessary for assuring animal health; and having veterinary oversight for such antibiotics used in animals
This is nice and reasonable of the CDC, but with 80 percent of the country’s antibiotics going to the animals we eat, and then into the environment, it’ll take a hell of a lot more than a pledge from an agency with no regulatory authority and a week of awareness to shift course from where we’re currently headed: a new dark age of medicine, where minor infections could be fatal.
Essentially, millions of food animals are not “finishing the course” of antibiotics, as our doctors instruct us to do when we take these precious drugs. This abuse of antibiotics by the livestock industry is a key culprit in the rise of superbugs, which can travel out from livestock facilities, hitching a ride on our food, through livestock and meat processing workers who come into contact with contaminated animals or meat, and through environmental pathways such as water, soil, and air that come into contact with contaminated animal waste, putting people at risk of acquiring serious, and even life-threatening, infections.
And it’s not just NRDC ringing the alarm bells. A broad coalition of the world’s most prominent medical and public health organizations—including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and the Infectious Diseases Society of America—are on record warning that the overuse and misuse of important antibiotics in food animals must end in order to protect public health. Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, Director of the CDC, has himself noted [PDF] that “there is strong scientific evidence of a link between antibiotic use in food animals and antibiotic resistance in humans.”