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Some 100,000 people die every year in the United States as a result of infections caused by bacteria known as 'super bugs', which have developed a resistance to antibiotics due to their overuse in the livestock industry. Anyone familiar with factory farming and the fast food industry knows that these antibiotics are pumped into animal feed to make them grow larger and faster unnaturally, and that the livestock grow sickly and dependent on them. The FDA has long sought to combat this process, and has been routinely thwarted by powerful agricultural interests in Washington. Now, the FDA is trying again: The agency just issued a policy paper stating that antibiotics should only be used under a veterinarian's supervision, and only when an animal is naturally sick. Could things finally change?The New York Times has the story:
Federal food regulators took a tentative step Monday toward banning a common use of penicillin and tetracycline in the water and feed given cattle, chickens and pigs in hopes of slowing the growing scourge of killer bacteria.Indeed. This is another instance where the case seems so clear cut that it's hard to take arguments in favor of continuing to overuse antibiotics seriously. 100,000 people die every year so corporations can get more meat faster (and engage in animal cruelty along the way). Most people may not care about the impact of grotesque antibiotic use on animals, because folks just don't tend to engage emotionally with livestock -- but perhaps the outrageous number of human lives that are lost every year will resonate.
But the Food and Drug Administration has tried without success for more than three decades to ban such uses. In the past, Congress has stepped in at the urging of agricultural interests and stopped the agency from acting. In the battle between public health and agriculture, the guys with the cowboy hats generally win.
Infectious disease experts have been warning about antibiotic overuse for years now. Maybe it's time we take them seriously, and get behind the FDA, as well as the legislation drafted to banish antibiotics from agriculture.