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You Can Thank Factory Farms When Antibiotics Stop Working

In a keynote address last year, the Director-General of the World Health Organization warned that we may be facing a future in which many of our miracle drugs no longer work. “A post-antibiotic era means, in effect, an end to modern medicine as we know it,” she said. “Things as common as strep throat or a child’s scratched knee could once again kill.”

The Director-General’s prescription to avoid this catastrophe included a global call to “Restrict the use of antibiotics in food production to therapeutic purposes.” In other words, only use antibiotics in agriculture to treat sick animals. In the United States, meat producers feed literally millions of pounds of antibiotics to farm animals who aren’t sick just to promote growth or prevent disease in the often cramped, stressful, unhygienic conditions of industrial animal agriculture. The FDA estimates that 80% of the antimicrobial drugs sold in the U.S. every year now go to the meat industry.

The discoverer of penicillin warned us back in the ’40s that misuse could lead to resistance, but the meat industry didn’t listen and started feeding it to chickens by the ton. The Food and Drug Administration finally wised up to the threat in 1977 and proposed stopping the feeding of penicillin and tetracycline to farm animals.

That was 36 years ago. Since then, the combined political power of the factory farming and pharmaceutical industries has effectively thwarted any legislative or regulatory action. This stranglehold shows no sign of breaking. We realized this reckless practice was a public health threat decades ago, and yet what’s been done about it?

“Present [farm animal] production is concentrated in high-volume, crowded, stressful environments, made possible in part by the routine use of antibacterial [drugs] in [the] feed,” the U.S. Congressional Office of Technology Assessment wrote in 1979. “Thus the current dependency on low-level use of antibiotics to increase or maintain production, while of immediate benefit, also could be the Achilles’ heel of present production methods.”

Industrial operations use antibiotics as a crutch to compensate for the squalid conditions that now characterize much of modern agribusiness. The unnatural crowding of animals and their waste creates such a strain on the animals’ immune systems that normal body processes like growth may be impaired. That’s why a constant influx of antibiotics is thought to accelerate weight gain by reducing this infectious load. The problem is that “Each animal feeding on an antibiotic becomes a ‘factory’ for the production and subsequent dispersion of antibiotic-resistant bacteria,” offering a whole new meaning to the term “factory farm”.

What else do they feed farm animals? Check out:

This issue, perhaps more than any other, lays to bare the power of moneyed interests to undermine public health. Look at the long list of endorsers of legislation to reform this practice. Sadly, though, the sway of nearly every single medical organization in the United States is no match for the combined might of Big Ag and Big Pharma.

For more on this issue, see:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

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Dr. Michael Greger

A founding member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, author, and internationally recognized speaker on nutrition, food safety, and public health issues. Currently Dr. Greger serves as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at The Humane Society of the United States. Hundreds of his nutrition videos are freely available at


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12:50AM PDT on Jul 9, 2015

Disgusting. The more I learn about factory farming the more I hate it.

7:57AM PDT on Jun 2, 2014

thanks for sharing

8:33PM PST on Dec 5, 2013

I'll stick with eco-eating:

12:49AM PDT on Oct 19, 2013

Yes, factory farmer choices and Monsanto !

11:32PM PDT on Oct 16, 2013

Thank you for sharing this

11:56AM PDT on Oct 13, 2013

Just what the world needs. Many of us have been complaining and trying to point out the results that are now being seen. Of course we were not the ones with or making a lot of money, therefore we know nothing.

8:33PM PDT on Oct 9, 2013

yeah, nothing new.

6:40PM PDT on Oct 7, 2013

We live in a rural area and buy our meat from the farm. I have coffee and watch as my order is cut and wrapped. I like this method better than shopping in town because I don't know where the meat at the supermarket started off or how it was raised.

6:57AM PDT on Oct 7, 2013

I've recently found an urban farm (in Burnaby, BC) and in just two visits and a few minutes' chat, I've learned a lot about the overwhelming political forces that are trying to shut them down just because they are using humane (animal) farming practices and back-to-the-land food production. It's ridiculous that governments are actively trying to stand between us and our ability to produce food without being part of the giant agro-machine.

10:29PM PDT on Oct 6, 2013

I'll be sure to send a thank you note before I croak.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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