It’s 12pm: time for a veggie bowl. Kale is your saviour. Soy dogs are for when you want to live life on the edge. But just because you’re staying clear of Big Macs, doesn’t mean they’re staying clear of you. McDonald’s new phrase might as well be “I’m [druggin’] it”–and this goes for all factory farms across the country that continue to drug burgers, chicken fingers, and the general population–meat eaters and vegetarians alike–with a giant and unnecessary dose of antibiotics.
Global warming, pandemics such as bird and swine flu, and a national healthcare cost that we all carry are a few of the nation-wide crises that factory farms yield. But the overuse of antibiotics is arguably the most imminent issue regarding mass produced meat. So, how do antibiotics reach us when we aren’t standing in line at the pharmacy counter?
Well, one way is water. America’s factory farms produce twice as much waste as humans do, and this waste isn’t exactly disposed of effectively due to Clean Water Act loopholes and the sheer amount of animal manure coming from farms. Animal waste is emptied into open lagoons or spread over fields, and much of it leaks into groundwater, surface water, and, therefore, drinking water. The massive amounts of antibiotics and hormones used to treat animals is present in these deposits and flushed into our water system so that many people across the country are taking a sip of water with a side of antibiotic traces.
Additionally, animal antibiotics are putting the country at risk of getting sick, and not being able to take medicine to get better. Since animals receive 80% of the country’s antibiotic supply (that’s 30 million pounds of antibiotics a year), humans are indirectly taking their medicine when they don’t need it. This results in bacteria-resistant to antibiotics, meaning that common illnesses become harder and more expensive to treat.
Sustainable farming that only uses antibiotics on animals that are actually sick is one way to curb the impacts of the meat industry. But, a more imminent policy has the power to incite change, as the FDA has made plans to eliminate penicillin and two forms of tetracycline from factory farms–albeit the change in policy is undergoing delays and discussion. The discussion of removing antibiotics from factory farms is at least on the table, resulting in baby steps for FDA officials. At a consumer level, many are beginning to understand that their relationship with food doesn’t necessarily need to be for better or for worse, or in sickness and in health.