U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter (NY) wants slaughterhouses to clean up their act. According to her office, more than 60 fast food companies, livestock producers, and meat/poultry processors received a letter from the Congresswoman asking them to fully disclose the use of antibiotics in the products they sell.
“In the past year alone, we have had more outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella associated with contaminated meat and poultry than any other year, leaving behind a trail of victims that cannot be treated with common antibiotics,” she wrote in the letter. “Consumers have a right to know what’s in their food,” said Slaughter. “We just want to know, ‘what’s in the beef?'”
“Not only is there no scientific study linking antibiotic use in food animals to antibiotic resistance in humans, but there isn’t even adequate data to conduct a study,” the National Pork Producers Council stated. However, to quote the late Carl Sagan, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”
The companies have been asked to respond by June 15, 2012.
In the meantime, the beef between science and the slaughterhouses rages on. Scientists maintain that the meat industry is responsible for creating antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria, while proponents of medicated meat maintain that the practice of administering antibiotics to farm animals used for human consumption is harmless to humans. ”The use of antibiotics helps maintain an affordable food supply and makes it more healthful and safer for human consumption,” says Sherrie Rosenblatt, vice president of marketing and communications with the National Turkey Federation. “Without antibiotics, animal suffering would increase and animals would be more likely to contract diseases that could be passed from animals to people through the food chain,” she adds.
However, the meat industry at large seems to care little about the suffering of animals or humans, as factory farm conditions are notoriously horrible for both parties. Animals are often killed in brutal ways and live in squalid conditions that promote disease, which would necessitate large amounts of antibiotics to keep them from dying from diseases, despite claims from Ashley Peterson, Ph.D., vice president of science and technology with the National Chicken Council, who says that antibiotics are used “sparingly” and “judiciously”. Conditions for human counterparts aren’t much better. Many are undocumented workers who are working for low wages in highly hazardous conditions. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the scientific community has reached the consensus that that animal agriculture is the single largest contributor to global warming. With 80% of all antimicrobials sold in the U.S. administered to farm animals, it’s more likely that factory farms want to fatten up their diseased animals- and fatten up their wallets with the profits they make from consumers.
Dr. Tara Smith stated that factory farms are like Petri dishes, allowing antibiotic resistant bacteria to spread between animals and workers; poor waste management practices continue the spread of contamination to air, water, and soil, meaning even vegetarians are at risk of consuming contaminated produce.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) indicate that there approximately 76 million cases of food-borne illness in the U.S. per year, most of it coming from meat and poultry; some of this includes strains of antibiotic resistant MRSA. More recent studies have shown that chickens, chicken meat, and humans are carrying identical, highly drug-resistant E. coli, suggesting that the resistance is passing through the food chain. Animals in Europe have even been noted to show high levels of antibiotic resistant bugs, despite the fact that the government heavily regulates antibiotic use- this suggests evolution of superbugs.
“We have a crisis in clinical medicine,” says Ellen Silbergeld, an expert in the health and environmental impacts of industrial food animal production at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. Infections that are antibiotic resistant are costing us billions of extra dollars, as the illnesses are more severe, persist longer, and require pricier therapies- sometimes multiple rounds.
Yet the Maryland School of Public Health has found a shockingly simple solution- stop adding antibiotics to animal feed. They found that when poultry and beef are produced without these antibiotics, bacterial resistance quickly declines.
The FDA has stepped up and requested that meat & poultry producers cease administering antibiotics to their animals; however, there is no law attached. Meat manufacturers are requested to respond within three months.