Here at Ecocentric, we keep our proverbial fingers on the pulse of emerging agricultural issues so that you, dear readers, can keep your proverbial fingers free for doing other stuff. The latest news: tomorrow, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health will hold a hearing self-explanatorily titled, “Antibiotic Resistance and the Use of Antibiotics in Animal Agriculture.”
The antibiotics issue, of course, is certainly not breaking news; scientists have known for decades that the irresponsible practice of administering nontherapeutic doses of antibiotics to food animals promotes the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which ultimately poses a significant threat to human health.
So why do industrial livestock producers continue to feed millions of pounds of antibiotics to healthy animals every year? The profit motive and a lack of regulation to force them to do otherwise.
A very brief explanation: if a continuous dose of antibiotics is fed to livestock confined in a CAFO, it helps prevent disease that would otherwise spread rapidly due to the filthy, crowded, stressful conditions characteristic of factory farms. Antibiotics also make animals grow slightly faster. So if a producer continuously administers a nontherapeutic dose of antibiotics, s/he can save money on feed and avoid having to spend any dough to improve the squalid, ultra-confined facilities in which the animals are raised.
The problem is that this practice promotes the development (and rapid proliferation) of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. This poses a serious public health threat because it renders antibiotics administered to humans incapable of effectively treating the superbugs created by factory farms.
For years, public health professionals have denounced the irresponsible use of antibiotics in agriculture, and have called for implementation of prudent regulation. As usual though, the industrial livestock sector has managed to retain a free pass to continue to conduct a socially detrimental production practice.
We're hoping that tomorrow’s hearing will help build the momentum necessary to eventually inspire creation of judicious antibiotics legislation. Keep your proverbial fingers crossed...
Want more information about antibiotics and food animal production? Check out Sustainable Table, The Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming and Keep Antibiotics Working.