Consumer Reports, the independent product-testing organization, is sounding the alarm about the overuse and misuse of antibiotics in meat and poultry production that has become a “cash cow”–as it were–for the pharmaceutical industry.
Overprescribing antibiotics in human medicine has become a big public health problem given antibiotic-resistant superbugs, but Consumer Reports points out that an incredible 80% of all antibiotic drugs sold in America are administered to mass-produced livestock to speed up their growth or for disease prevention in crowded/unsanitary factory farm conditions.
Drug company sales of animal heath products for livestock is estimated to be in the billions according to Consumer Reports.
The average American chows down on about 200 pounds of meat and poultry every year. Given that amount of consumption, Consumer Reports argues that healthy livestock should never be dosed with antibiotics.
According to the report, Meat On Drugs, antibiotic resistance in livestock raised for human consumption can have huge health ramifications:
The superbugs that are immune to antibiotics on the farm exchange genetic material with bacteria elsewhere, leading to antibiotic resistance in hospitals and communities.
Antibiotic resistance is not just a general public health problem. It can affect the individual consumer who gets sick from food. Foodborne illness sickens an estimated 48 million people in the U.S. each year…
If a person is sickened by preparing or eating raw or undercooked chicken contaminated with a disease-causing bug such as salmonella, that salmonella is likely to be a superbug, able to withstand one or more antibiotics.
The good news is that nearly 2/3 of shoppers in a Consumer Reports poll indicated they can buy meat and poultry raised without antibiotics at their local supermarkets.
Here’s what to look for on the label of meat or poultry claiming to be without antibiotics: USDA Organic or USDA Process Verified (USDA stands for the U.S. Department of Agriculture). Products that merely say “natural,” “antibiotic free,” “no antibiotic residues,” or “no antibiotic growth promotants” or other somewhat vague language aren’t fully verified according to Consumer Reports.
Even though antibiotic-free meat tends to cost more, Consumer Reports explains that “Consumers can make a significant contribution to ending use of antibiotics on animals by shopping at stores that carry meat without antibiotics and buying those products.”
Legislation is pending in Congress that would rule out the use of medically important antibiotics in livestock production (except for treating sick animals) and thereby protect the effectiveness of these drugs for human use.
As far as the meat and poultry industry itself, Consumer Reports argues that commercial production facilities should take a preemptive steps and not wait around for new laws or regulations:
Giving cattle, pigs, turkeys, and chickens antibiotics in their food and water to improve their growth and prevent disease has become standard practice, especially at very large feedlots and mass-production facilities. For the sake of preserving these drugs for treatment of sick people, it is imperative for meat and poultry producers to stop treating animals with these drugs prophylactically and for growth promotion. In doing so, they will take a step toward solving the public health problem of antibiotic resistance and decrease the chance of “superbug” infection outbreaks.
A Consumer Reports official told CBS News that, “You should use antibiotics for treating diseases, but do you need to feed it to healthy animals every day to promote growth and prevent disease – we don’t think so.” Here is the CBS News video:
Here is a video from MeatWithoutDrugs.org: