Written by Deirdre Imus
Antibiotics are necessary and important medications – preventing and combating dangerous infections in humans and animals alike. Unfortunately, for this reason, they often wind up in the meat that you buy at the store or the meat you consume in restaurants, sometimes to your knowledge - but usually not.
However, a Consumer Reports poll released last week showed that a majority of Americans want meat raised without antibiotics to be sold at their local supermarket, and more than half of those surveyed would be willing to pay more for that guarantee. The mood in this country is changing, and it’s time for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to join the party.
Antibiotic overuse in animals is concerning for a number of reasons. First, it has the potential to create “superbugs” that are immune or resistant to antibiotics, which is problematic in animal populations and could be catastrophic for humans. Second, antibiotics are primarily given to animals – chickens, cows and pigs – to prevent infections brought on by the unsanitary conditions in which they are raised: usually feed houses replete with feces, bacteria and other toxic substances. Third, as David Kirby details in his excellent book “Animal Factory,” the runoff from factory farms has already created horrific environmental tragedies around the country by poisoning people’s water supply and making them sick with cancer and other diseases.
Earlier this year, the FDA proposed new rules that would temper the meat industry’s love affair with antibiotics. Yet these guidelines – which would prohibit antibiotic use for the sole purpose of making animals grow bigger faster – are voluntary rather than mandatory. Asking meat producers to do something out of the goodness of their hearts, regardless of the bottom line, is definitely not the most productive way to handle this situation.
Industry, however, would be wise to heed the results of the Consumer Reports poll, if for no other reason than the market – better known as their consumers – is shifting.