Every year, the nonorganic farm system administers a whopping 30 million pounds of antibiotics to farm animals that aren't even sick. They do this to fatten up animals faster and prevent health problems in animals kept in extreme confinement (and often filthy) conditions. Much of the meat and eggs sold in your supermarket likely come from animals raised this way, and antibiotic-resistant germs have actually been detected in raw supermarket meats.
It's been clearly documented that residues from antibiotics wind up in the nonorganic meat we eat, something that hasn't been studied for its long-term health impacts in people. What is immediately apparent, though, is the strong science showing that feeding healthy farm animals antibiotics for the last several decades has created untreatable superbug infections that in America kill about 17,000 people a year, more than AIDS. About 80 percent of all antibiotics administered in the U.S. are used on healthy animals, not people, creating a public health crisis.
Despite this dangerous public health threat, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Wednesday announced that it will not formally ban the use of antibiotics in livestock, but will instead ask the industrial food system to voluntarily stop the dangerous practice. "FDA doesn't actually require the livestock industry to do anything to stop endangering human health," explains Avinash Kar, attorney with Natural Resources Defense Council. "This is an ineffective response to the alarming rise in antibiotic resistance, which threatens human health."
A spokeswoman for the Center for Food Safety says the FDA's antibiotic reduction plan is an important first step in protecting the public from antibiotic-resistant bacteria,
In the draft guidance, FDA proposes that industry voluntarily eliminate the routine use of antibiotics in animals that aren't sick, adding that farmers will need to consult with a veterinarian before administering antibiotics to animals.
Despite FDA's lack of an outright ban, the agency does publicly admit that antibiotic use in livestock farming is a growing problem. But by not taking a stand against routine antibiotic abuse in farming, the agency could actually be breaking the law. Last month, a federal judge ordered the FDA to withdraw approval for certain antibiotics in animal feed that are creating health risks for humans, in the form of hard-to-treat or untreatable antibiotic-resistant superbugs, unless the drug manufacturers can prove the meds safe.
Decades of antibiotic misuse in the farming sector have led to some pathogens, including Salmonella, to become more virulent and less treatable. This crisis is occurring because antibiotics used to treat sick people are used in huge quantities in nonorganic farming, opening the door for resistant bacteria to flourish and become more dangerous. In fact, some of medicine's most useful antibiotics are no longer working in humans.
Because of this, a huge variety of groups in the U.S. and around the world have been calling for the removal of antibiotics in animal feed, including the American Medical Association, World Health Organization, and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.
How to avoid drugged meat:
1. Look for organic animal products. By law, antibiotics are not allowed in organic production.
2. Look local. Some small farmers raise animals for meat without routinely feeding the animals antibiotics but they don't go through the trouble of becoming certified organic. Find local farmers on LocalHarvest.org and how the farm manages illnesses and keeps animals healthy. Animals rotated on fresh pasture tend to have stronger immune systems and produce a more nutrient-dense finished food product, many studies show.
3. Certified Humane and Animal Welfare Approved farms may only use antibiotics on a case-by-case basis, and then only if an animal is actually sick and needs a short-term treatment.