Burgers, Wings and Superbugs: Playing the Food Safety Game

What if someone told you that Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) infections killed more people in one year than AIDS, or that an encounter with E.coli could leave you paralyzed, or that the flu you thought you had wasn’t actually the flu, but a food-borne illness? Would you be concerned?

The Center for Disease Control estimates that 76 million Americans are affected by food-borne illnesses each year.  Of those, 2 million are cases of antibiotic resistant infections, 90,000 of which result in death. The National Academy of Sciences has estimated the annual cost of treating antibiotic resistant infections in the U.S. to be $30 billion.

Antibiotics are routinely given to healthy animals on farms in a nontherapeutic manner, or before they actually get sick, to compensate for filthy living conditions and to promote growth. The problem with this is animals receiving low doses of antibiotics on a regular basis are like walking petri dishes for bacterial growth that can result in antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria.

The problem that follows is that these antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria can be spread to other animals, and to us by eating and handling meat and dairy products, along with other fruits and vegetables or by being exposed to water supplies that have been tainted by manure in the forms of fertilizer and runoff. Our livestock industry is growing something our medicine doesn’t stand a chance against, and we’re all susceptible to it whether we eat meat or not. 

We rally for causes. We campaign and educate about issues like AIDS. We grieve for the stories of lost loved ones. We’re touched by stories of strangers. Other times it doesn’t hit home until it happens to us, or someone we know. So, where is the public outcry over something that’s causing millions of preventable diseases and deaths each year all while fouling our land, water and air? Where is the public outcry for something that causes such intense suffering of animals that few can stomach watching a factory farm or slaughterhouse video.

As Jonathan Safran Foer points out, somehow it all just fades into the background. 

“There is a glaring reason that the necessary total ban on nontherapeutic use of antibiotics hasn’t happened: The factory farm industry, allied with the pharmaceutical industry, has more power than public-health professionals.

What is the source of the industry’s immense power? We give it to them. We have chosen, unwittingly, to fund this industry on a massive scale by eating factory-farmed animal products. And we do so daily.”

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, 50 million pounds of antibiotics have been used on farms in the past two years, which accounts for about 70 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S.

Three years ago, the Pew Charitable Trust started a campaign to see what the effects of animal farming were on human and animal health and the environment.

The results were clear: Curbing the use of antibiotics on farms in order to keep them more effective for human use, in addition to encouraging farms to improve sanitation is a must.

Currently, some 350 organizations agree with this notion, including the American Medical Association, the Center for Disease Control, the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization have also recommended restrictions on antibiotics.

U.S. Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY) introduced the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA), which would result in phasing out the use of antibiotics on livestock, unless it’s being used to treat sick animals, along with providing funding for institutions who want to work with producers on this cause.

As Slaughter pointed out, if someone told you to put antibiotics in your child’s cereal everyday, you wouldn’t just think that was crazy, but also potentially dangerous. Yet, that seems to be exactly what we’re doing.

The bill is currently pending in both houses of Congress. In the House of Representatives, Representative Slaughter is sponsoring the legislation, H.R. 1549.  The late Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) are sponsoring the Senate companion bill, S. 619.

Send a letter to your representatives asking them to support the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (H.R. 1549).

Send a letter to your senators asking them to support the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (S.619). 

Sign Care2’s petition asking Congress to stop the overuse of antibiotics on farm animals.

creative commons

112 comments

Jeanne R
Jeanne Rogersabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne Rogersabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne Rogersabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne Rogersabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne Rogersabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Lisa Gourley
Lisa Gourley5 years ago

TY

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Duane B.
.5 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Cheryl B.
Cheryl B7 years ago

scary, very scary

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Cheryl B.
Cheryl B7 years ago

scary

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gerlinde p.
gerlinde p8 years ago

thankyou for article.

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