Meat Industry Now Uses 80% Of Nation’s Antibiotics

If there ever was a headline that could get you to check the labels on your food, it’d be this one. The Pew Charitable Trust has a new infographic out, using FDA data, that shows the sheer volume of antibiotics the meat industry pumps into animals.

Pew Foundation

Pew Foundation

So, that’s horrifying. But, according to Mother Jones, here’s the best part: these antibiotic stuffed animals are perfect breeding grounds for antibiotic resistant pathogens! What fun:

• Of the Salmonella on ground turkey, about 78% were resistant to at least one antibiotic and half of the bacteria were resistant to three or more. These figures are up compared to 2010.

• Nearly three-quarters of the Salmonella found on retail chicken breast were resistant to at least one antibiotic. About 12% of retail chicken breast and ground turkey samples were contaminated with Salmonella.

• Resistance to tetracycline [an antibiotic] is up among Campylobacter on retail chicken. About 95% of chicken products were contaminated with Campylobacter, and nearly half of those bacteria were resistant to tetracyclines. This reflects an increase over last year and 2002.

There is fix to this issue, however. The “Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act,” according to the Union of Concerned Scientists would:

Within two years of enactment, the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA) would require the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to re-review the approvals it previously issued for animal feed uses of the seven classes of antibiotics that are important to human medicine. The approvals would be canceled for any antibiotics that are found to be unsafe from a resistance point of view.

If you’d like to take action, Pew has a website set up with more information if you are interested in contacting Congress. You can also be diligent in checking packaging at the grocery store. Buy organic or non-antibiotic products. Many restaurants will also point out if they use meat without these drugs. Chipotle is a major chain that comes to mind.

Yes, they sometimes cost more, but that’s the point: the meat industry does this to lower costs. The cost of meat is kept artificially low in the US. If the meat industry had to absorb the healthcare and environmental costs associated with their practices, that would be a different story. This is a perfect example of externalizing costs.

At any rate, I hope you are sufficiently disgusted by this to be more aware of what you put in your body.

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16 Responses to Meat Industry Now Uses 80% Of Nation’s Antibiotics

  1. johnhaskell says:

    Spend an hour doing a basic Google search on “food libel laws.” Basically the laws, set up in 13 states (though there is pressure to make it a federal law), lowers the burden of proof for plaintiffs in libel cases. Moreover, and what I find to be more controversial, is that the way some of the laws are written allows plaintiffs to recover attorney’s fees regardless of the outcome of the case–basically giving a deep pocketed plaintiff more financial incentive to go to court on the basis that the defendant could be the one footing the attorney’s bills.

    From a 1999 NYTimes article regarding those laws:

    “Now, though, critics say those laws are putting a chill on the continuing debate about what the public should eat.”

    And yes, in reality, such laws do trample on the First Amendment, regardless of what 13 state legislatures say.

  2. I read about this last year. That’s why I’ve become very careful with what I put in my body. As for Chipotle I love it. It’s one of the few fast food restaurants that when I’m done eating I don’t feel sick or bloated. I feel full and well.

    On the topic of antibiotics, I only take them if necessary. I try to fight them off naturally. When I was a kid I would always take amoxicillin and eventually it would lose its effectiveness. That’s why I rarely ever take Tylenol. I will try very hard to manage a migraine (when I get one) before I decide to take Excedrin.

    The resistance to antibiotics is very troubling. I hope they do something about it and the high fructose corn syrup that’s so prevalent in our food.

    In Europe hfs is banned. Maybe you should write about that. Thanks for the informative post.

  3. This is why I support full-disclosure product labeling requirements. Consumers should be provided with all pertinent information so they can make their own choices. And, this should include GMO’s as well regardless of industry-sponsored studies purporting their quality.

    • That’s a good point. If we’re not going to give the FDA the teeth to keep food producers from putting this crap in our food, we should at least have the right to know whats in there in the first place.

  4. Alastor says:

    The issue of antibiotic resistance is vitally important. Over-sanitization in general, not just the meat industry, is putting everyone at risk. A little cold here and there is preferable to a superbug that cannot be treated.

    • It really is. Drugs of all kinds are over-prescribed by doctors. I had a conversation with the chief of staff of a Texas hospital recently. He said many patients just won’t accept that sometimes inaction is an action. Many times the best course is to do nothing, but patients demand treatment.

      • Alastor says:

        Another thing to consider in that vein is the unsustainable cost of medical treatment. Antibiotics are typically expensive. As bacteria become increasingly resistant to commonplace treatments, and patients are required to use newer and newer antibiotics, the cost goes up by orders of magnitude.

        Having worked as a third party biller at Long Term Care pharmacy, I can tell you quite honestly that the IV antibiotics used to treat multi-drug resistant bacteria costs insurance plans–if they cover them–thousands of dollars for a few days’ worth of treatment.

        If people want to get serious about cutting the costs of medical care, then they are going to have to accept that some conditions can, and must, be suffered through without treatment.

      • Yep. That was the point the chief of staff made to me as well.

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