Meat industry profits at the cost of your health

Liz Gordon, Contributing Writer

What if you brought your child to the doctor for strep throat and the doctor said there were no antibiotics to treat her? You could only hope that she fought off the infection, but there is a good chance she could die. It seems impossible with modern medicine, but antibiotic resistance is a real and growing global threat. We all hear about doctors over-prescribing antibiotics, but many people are unaware that 80 percent of all antibiotics are used for livestock like cattle, chickens, and pigs. Large farms commonly use antibiotics to make the animals grow faster and allow them to survive in cramped, unsanitary living conditions. We need to stop this preventative use of antibiotics on farms because it is linked to resistance in people. Placing regulations or bans is one way to prevent misuse, but individuals can fight the industry by eliminating demand for meat raised with antibiotics. Vote with your wallet by only purchasing organic meats or those with the label “no antibiotics.”

Eighty years ago, antibiotics revolutionized public health. Before their discovery and widespread use, the top three causes of death were infections. Today, severe illness and death from infections are uncommon, but growing antibiotic resistance could change that. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has declared antibacterial resistance to be a global threat. In 2014, the White House developed a national strategy to combat resistance. From the beginning, bacteria evolved to survive antibiotics and scientists developed new, stronger drugs. However, we may soon be at risk of a bacteria that we can’t fight. A new E. coli strain that is resistant to every antibiotic except colistin has been found in meats. Despite this, farms in China are spraying colistin on feed as a preventative antibiotic. Strains of staph infections called methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) have also evolved that can only be treated by a few antibiotics. Initially, MRSA was only found in hospitals but now many cases break out in the community, including in bathrooms and gyms. A simple untreated cut can lead to an amputation or the death of a healthy person.

The use of antibiotics on farms was not concerning in the past because it was not clear that farm resistance could be passed to humans. In 1988, a division of the National Academy of Sciences concluded that a direct link exists between antibiotic use in animals and the spread of resistant bacteria to humans. In 2012, the FDA recognized that the misuse of antibiotics in livestock created evolutionary pressure and even banned the preventative use of cephalosporin in certain animals. Given this mounting evidence, we must prioritize public health over inexpensive meat. The most obvious way bacteria is transferred to humans is by preparing and eating meat. Consumer Reports revealed that two-thirds of grocery poultry were contaminated with salmonella or campylobacter and 60 percent were resistant to one or more antibiotics. The other method of transmission is through the environment by workers, runoff, fertilizer, and even flies.

The use of preventive use of antibiotics in farm animals should be stopped to protect our health. Purchasing these meats provides the meat industry with profits by speeding animal growth and raising animals in cruel conditions. We need to increase FDA oversight, expand the regulation of farms, and educate the public. Most important, every consumer makes an immediate impact by refusing to buy meat raised with antibiotics in unnatural conditions. Read labels and protect your family and friends by only purchasing organic meats or meats raised without antibiotics.

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