Why do we, as consumers, care about this? Because the overuse of antibiotics in our food supply leads to drug-resistant bacteria. We’re seeing that with the rise in MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, infections, which are not treatable by most antibiotics.
Antibiotics are regularly fed to healthy factory farmed animals to ward off any diseases that are likely to strike when large numbers of animals are confined together in a small, unsanitary space. This irresponsible use of antibiotics means that bacteria have more opportunity to evolve defense mechanisms against the antibiotics, making the drugs ineffective, and creating super bugs like MRSA.
The Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming has some scary statistics:
- In 1998, the Institute of Medicine estimated that antibiotic resistance generated at least $4 billion to $5 billion per year in extra costs to the U.S. health care system, more recently estimated at $16.6 billion to $26 billion per year
- Up to 70 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are given to healthy food animals
- More than 25 million pounds of antibiotics a year are used as a non-therapeutic treatment to artificially speed up the growth of food animals and to compensate for the effects of unsanitary conditions on the farm
The World Health Organization has recommended that the FDA and USDA regulate the administering of antibiotics to food animals, and end this dangerous practice. But since they won’t, we consumers need to be responsible and only purchase animal products from animals that were not fed antibiotics. Check labels to be sure the animals’ diet was drug-free, or look for the Organic designation, which means no antibiotics, hormones, or steroids were fed to the animals. Even better, purchase your animal products from small, local farms, where you can visit and confirm that the animals are pasture-raised and happy. The future of humanity may depend on it!