Yesterday the Food and Drug Administration began urging meat producers to stop using so many antibiotics, claiming that it poses a serious public health threat. Antibiotics are used in agriculture to prevent illness, treat sickness and to promote animal growth, although it’s not entirely clear to anyone how antibiotics in feed and water help to fatten animals. No one is quite certain, either, of what percentage of antibiotics is being put to which use; about 84% of all antibiotics in the U.S. are used in agriculture, but estimates of what amount are used to promote growth range from 13 % to 70 %. The industrialization of animal farms over the past several decades has made processors more dependent on antibiotics because factory farm animals tend to be sicker and feed-lot diets can encourage bacterial infections. All this is bad news for humans, who remain vulnerable to “superbugs,” or bacteria that grows resistant to and cannot be killed by antibiotics. The FDA has tried without success for over thirty years to ban such wide use, but in every instance, agricultural interests have succeeded in getting Congress to block the motion. Even though this move does nothing to change the present overuse of antibiotics, it’s the first inkling in years that the agency is remounting the long-standing fight with the agro-industry. Why now? And what will it mean for the meat industry and for consumers?
Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-New York’s 28th District; Chairwoman of the House Rules Committee; she is a microbiologist with a master’s degree in public health
Richard L. Lobb, Director of Communications, for the National Chicken Council
Richard Wood, chairman of the board of Keep Antibiotics Working & director of the Food Animal Concerns Trust