The Drugging of Livestock

September 24, 2009 by  
Filed under Diet And Nutrition, Meat

cow-publicenergyThere are many reasons to consider cutting down or cutting out eating meat. Over the course of this series I’ve talked about the health and environmental ramifications of a meat-based diet.

And of course, cutting down or cutting out meat consumption plays a key role in living a Low Density Lifestyle.

But one of the detrimental health ramifications that I haven’t mentioned to this point is the fact that livestock – chickens, pigs, and cattle – are fed antibiotics on a routine basis. They are fed the drugs not to stop illness but to encourage rapid growth, by promoting weight gain or more efficient feed consumption.antibiotics-in-meat

This is a public health nightmare, because the widespread use of antibiotics in livestock can lead to the spread of dangerous bacteria in humans, because it causes the development of bacteria that are immune to many treatments.

70 percent of antibiotics used in the United States is given to healthy chickens, pigs and cattle annually – a total of twenty-five million pounds of antibiotics per year fed to these animals. This is eight times more than the amount used as human medicine.

The FDA reports that 2 million Americans contract bacterial infections during hospital stays annually, and “70 percent of the infections are resistant to at least one antibiotic.”
This is the price that Americans pay for the widespread use of antibiotics in livestock.

antibiotics-notext-ucs-001With that in mind, in July the Obama administration announced that it would seek to ban many routine uses of antibiotics in farm animals in hopes of reducing the spread of dangerous bacteria in humans.

In written testimony to the House Rules Committee, Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, principal deputy commissioner at the FDA of food and drugs, said feeding antibiotics to healthy chickens, pigs and cattle should cease. And Dr. Sharfstein said farmers should no longer be able to use antibiotics in animals without the supervision of a veterinarian.

In July, Congressional hearings were held to discuss a measure proposed by Representative Louise M. Slaughter, Democrat of New York and chairwoman of the Rules Committee. It would ban seven classes of antibiotics important to human health from being used in animals, and would restrict other antibiotics to therapeutic and some preventive uses.antibiotics

These drugs are penicillins, tetracyclines, macrolides, lincosamides, streptogramins, aminoglycosides, and sulfonamides, along with any other drug used to treat bacterial illness in people.

The legislation is supported by the Union of Concerned Scientists, Pew Environment Group, and the American Medical Association, among other groups, but opposed by farm organizations like the National Pork Producers Council. The farm lobby’s opposition makes its passage unlikely, but advocates are hoping to include the measure in the legislation to revamp the health care system.

antimicrobialOf course, we know how famously well legislation to revamp the health care system is faring. It’s been watered down many times by interest groups – primarily the insurance and drug companies – who have much to lose if the status quo is upended.

The use of antibiotics for “purposes other than for the advancement of animal or human health should not be considered judicious use,” Dr. Sharfstein said in his written testimony. “Eliminating these uses will not compromise the safety of food.”

Much of Dr. Sharfstein’s testimony summarized information that has been widely accepted for years by medical groups.

Robert Martin, a senior officer at the Pew Environment Group, which has paid for an advertising campaign to support the measure, said the prospects for the measure’s passage were improving.


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  1. […] yesterday’s article, I discussed the rampant use of antibiotics with livestock – primarily used as a tool to help them grow larger and bigger – and how 70% of all antibiotics […]

  2. […] of this two-week old series on meat discussed the rampant use of drugs with livestock, both antibiotics and […]

  3. […] You can read more about antibiotics and livestock in the article I wrote on the Low Density Lifestyle website last fall, The Drugging of Livestock. […]

  4. […] of antibiotics, hormones, steroids and dangerous bacteria into our food chain. They introduce antibiotics into our food supply and create drug resistant bacteria.  They kill children when fecal matter contaminates meat.  Why […]

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