Friday, February 19, 2016

Stop Force-Feeding Antibiotics To Farm Animals

Food Animals


Antibiotic Trough: Keeve Nachman for Scientific American writes: “People born in the past 70 years are fortunate enough to live in a time when major medical and public health advances, including antibiotics, have allowed us to live long enough to die from chronic diseases instead of infectious ones. The misuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture threatens to hurtle us into a postantibiotic world, where even the most routine infections may become deadly. We must take meaningful action—and fast.”
Image Credit: Scott Brundage
Antibiotics are good and have been a boon to humanity. These drugs have saved countless number of lives from infections that before Fleming’s discovery of penicillin, in 1945, would have resulted in death. The overuse of antibiotics (and other antimicrobials), however, can have long-term consequences, not only for human but also for food animals. Despite unregulated guidelines set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, that such drugs cannot be used to promote growth, they are still used for “disease prevention” or what is referred to as sub-therapeutic antibiotic use.

In “Curb Antiobiotic Use in Farm Animals (March 1, 2016), Keeve Nachman for Scientific American writes:
In 1945 Alexander Fleming, the man who discovered penicillin, warned that overuse of his miracle drug could make bacteria immune to it. He was right—and not just about penicillin: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that antibiotic-resistant bacteria infect more than two million people a year, at least 23,000 of whom die. A significant part of that overuse, the cdc says, involves feeding the drugs to the animals we eat. Farmers do this not to cure or prevent disease but simply to make livestock grow bigger and faster.
Which ranchers and farmers then bring to market, which then end up in store shelves. This raises an concern, which is whether it is ethical to raise/sell food that has the potential to eventually reduce the efficacy of antibiotics? Some would argue that there always is an inherent risk in living, and, moreover, if people are aware that conventional farm-raised animals contain antibiotics, they have been forewarned. Moreover, one can argue that the benefits outweigh the risks.

My response to this is that this might be true, but there is a caveat. What are the ethics of using antibiotics (instead of, for example, grain or grass) as means of increasing growth? Such farming practices, despite being common for decades (since the 1950s), ought to be seriously reviewed, with possible provisions for regulation. If not, farmers, who state that they are concerned about profits, might see people protesting where it counts: at the cash register. (Yes, I am aware of the economic reasons why farmers have been using antibiotics.)

For some, this might turn people away from any consumption of meat, which requires a more-carefully managed diet. For others, this might mean organic is an option, which requires spending more money on meat. Even so, organic meat might not be more healthy than conventional meat and that the meat they purchase at the supermarket might still harbor bacteria like Campylobacter (chicken) and E. coli (pork). Cooking according to guidelines kills the bacteria, an easy-enough solution.

It seems confusing, doesn’t it? Such is what happens when the choices for consumers are many, and the science supporting it is not completely understood. There is comfort, however, in knowing that nations like Canada and the United States have excellent regulatory and inspection systems for meat.

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For more, go to [ScientificAmerican]

For an example of labeling guidelines, see the USDA guidelines [here].

For the USDA (2013) report, see [here].