Writing for the Washington Post, Jane Black wrote a recent article entitled “Why Limiting Antibiotics on the Farm is a Fight that can be Won.” Black: “Ask a dozen food activists what political change they want to see in 2013 and you’ll get a dozen different answers, maybe two dozen: Restrict sodium in packaged foods. Label genetically modified ingredients. End subsidies to big farms.” All worthy changes.
The author’s point is that marshalling support around a single issue that would “be big enough to unite the disparate elements in the food community: chefs, parents, nutritionists and farmers” would be tough. She says one issue that would coalesce all stakeholders enough to “lobby their member of Congress” is to “get antibiotics off the farm and out of the food supply.
“According to the Food and Drug Administration, 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the United States — about 28.8 million pounds — are given to animals that are raised for food. Most of those animals are perfectly healthy, but they receive regular doses of medicine to make them grow faster, to make up for cramped conditions on industrial farms. Those two “benefits” are part of how producers keep the price of meat cheap.
“The problem is that antibiotic overuse breeds drug-resistant superbugs that can move from animals to people in numerous ways, including via the meat we eat.
“We are really at a point in history where we are looking at the real loss of antibiotics,” said Laura Rogers, the director of the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming. “Most people can’t imagine what that would be like. Without antibiotics, routine surgeries aren’t safe. Transplants would be all but impossible. Strep throat moves from a minor worry to a major threat.”
The article goes on to discuss animal cleanliness practices, farm waste and improved living conditions. It also discusses the political push required from the Obama administration to effect change: “In 2012, the FDA issued draft guidance that asked the pharmaceutical industry to change labeling and marketing practices so that antibiotics are used only to treat sick animals. It was the first related action the FDA has taken since it first noted the dangers of adding antibiotics to animal feed 34 years ago. Without some push from inside the administration, political watchers say, the agency probably would have continued to stay mum.”
Big human safety and animal welfare issues confront all American food producers, and they cannot be ignored. Once again, demand for a healthy food system with accountable results from a broad swath of consumers will yield change.
It’s important to all of us.