Did you know that as much as 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in the United States go to livestock? To put it simply: the industrial livestock system as we know it is dependent on antibiotics to keep it going.
But why are so many antibiotics a bad thing?
For starters, the more antibiotics in the food system, the more antibiotic resistant bacteria, and that has a serious effect on our health. Antibiotic resistant infections kill an average of 23,000 Americans per year, something the CDC has called “potentially catastrophic.” With more and more antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria, farms are also more susceptible to outbreaks, like the Salmonella Heidelberg outbreak linked to Foster Farms chicken.
But that’s not all.
Even beyond the antibiotic resistant bacteria that led to millions of infections every year, there’s another health link to antibiotics in our food system: obesity. More and more research is starting to be done on the link between overuse of antibiotics and obesity, and the results are not good.
What is the solution to this escalating problem? Some food activists and politicians are pushing for a restriction on antibiotics. Last year, Rep. Louise Slaughter — the only microbiologist in Congress — introduced the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA), a bill that would ban the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock. Dianne Feinstein has a similar bill in the Senate, a bill which if approved, would “amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to preserve the effectiveness of medically important antimicrobials used in the treatment of human and animal diseases.”
PAMTA would essentially ban the use of non-therapeutic antibiotics, something that activists believe needs to be at the forefront of federal policy.
“The issue [of antibiotic resistance] has been stuck for a long time,” Patty Lovera, assistant director at the advocacy group Food and Water Watch, told Civil Eats. “We still need to have Congress say you can’t use these drugs in this way.”
The science is there, but the legal willpower is not. As David A. Kessler, former FDA commissioner wrote in The New York Times last year, “We have more than enough scientific evidence to justify curbing the rampant use of antibiotics for livestock, yet the food and drug industries are not only fighting proposed legislation to reduce these practices, they also oppose collecting the data.”
To help gain movement for PAMTA, Food and Water Watch has launched a grassroots campaign called Campaign to Save Antibiotics, calling for support in cities where city councils have passed resolutions calling for the end to the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms. Currently eight cities have passed such resolutions, including Seattle, Washington and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Because if you can’t get anything passed at the national level, you better get engaged on a citywide level.
Back to the national level. What will it take to make nationwide change? In an interview in December, Slaughter highlighted the importance of consumer activism.
“We need to get consumers to say, ‘We’re not going to eat it. We will not feed this to our families. Cut it out.’ Already there are some companies that don’t use antibiotics and hormones in their food. [They’re] hard to find, but we really have to make the case, as they have done in other countries, that you just can’t do that anymore. I learned from another bill that I was carrying how much the publicity matters, and the only way I could ever get the majority in the House to even take up a bill like that would be an outcry from the public,” Slaughter told Food Safety News.
So for now, let’s hope that more cities keep fighting and passing resolutions that call for a ban on the unnecessary use of antibiotics. Our health depends on it.
Photo Credit: ..stina..