Consumer Reports – Meat on Drugs

Looks like Consumer Reports is the latest organization to throw its weight behind the antibiotic-free meat. Full story here.  In their report “Meat on Drugs” they have gone so far as to label the widespread use of agricultural antibiotics a “major national health crisis.”

It’s nice to see a big well-respected consumer advocacy group like this come to bat against routine sub-therapeutic antibiotic use.
I don’t have any problem using antibiotics to treat an animal if it has an actual infection.

The problem is that most antibiotics used on farms is mixed in the animal’s feed. When antibiotics are mixed in with animal feed it’s no longer being targeted to sick animals.  Instead, it’s going to the entire population, where it will treat the sick animals, but it will also “treat” otherwise healthy animals who’s immune systems are capable of defeating an infection on their own.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria don’t come from sick (clinically infected) animals; those animals get treated with more than enough antibiotics to kill the threatening bacteria.  Antibiotic-resistance is bred in those animals who get a constant low-dose of antibiotics.  The low (sub-therapeutic) dose is enough to kill most (but not all) bacteria.  Those bacteria that aren’t killed are the basis for a new antibiotic-resistant generation.

The most infuriating thing about this whole deal is that the FDA has known about it for decades without doing anything.

FDA issued (a notice of hearing) in 1977 on proposals to withdraw approval of all subtherapeutic uses of penicillin in animal feed   and nearly all subtherapeutic uses of tetracyclines (oxytetracycline and chlortetracycline) in animal feed because of a threat to human health.

Several non-profit groups sued the FDA in 2011 to get them to finally do something about the problem they noticed way back in 1977.  A few weeks after the ruling they announced a voluntary phase-out of antibiotics in animal feed.  Don’t worry, they’ve got this totally under control.

So what can we do about all of this?

Choose meat raised without antibiotics.  Buy from a local farmer who you trust.  If you buy meat from the store, look for “no antibiotics” or “organic” labels.  Ask your favorite restaurant where they get their meat, and if it was raised without antibiotics.

We’ll all be better off for it.


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