Saturday, September 18, 2010

I Like Bacon

Disclaimer: I like bacon. And steak and chicken.

But I don't like antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

It's no secret that the reason US livestock producers can raise thousands of animals in close confinement is because they use antibiotics not to treat, but to prevent infections in animals. This means every animal receives antibiotics at certain ages as a matter of course. It also means that when bacteria ultimately learn how to survive in those conditions - and they always do - that they are resistant to the antibiotics that include many that humans use. And that spells trouble not only for the herds of animals but for humans who come in contact with the resistant microbes in their meat.

From a recent NYT article that outlines the issue and talks about possible enhanced regulations on livestock antibiotic use: 
"In a letter to Congress in July, Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cited “compelling evidence” of a “clear link between antibiotic use in animals and antibiotic resistance in humans.”"

I understand the food economics argument, that the use of antibiotics keeps the price per animal down, which translates into cheap food to feed our citizens. But I also understand that Americans eat too much fatty food - and that includes bacon and hamburger. Maybe a small increase in price would encourage smaller portions, or meals without meat as a centerpiece, or more consumption of plant-based foods.

And I understand the commodity argument, that livestock growers make a slim profit per animal and that profit would be reduced if they could not use antibiotics in the current way. But it sounds as if Denmark farmers - who produce most of Europe's pork - have found ways to keep their animals healthy without antibiotics. Here is testimony given by a representative of the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration explaining their success.

I think limiting or eliminating the use of prophylactic antibiotics in animals is a step in the right direction. We have a decent model provided by our Danish friends, let's follow it.


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