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Who’s Hogging Our Antibiotics?

Large-scale industrial farming of animals relies heavily on antibiotics. I’d go so far as to say that it wouldn’t be possible without the regular administration of antibiotics on relatively “healthy” animals. Otherwise, how else could they get away with crowding the animals into facilities that are sanitation nightmares? According to a new ad campaign launched by the Pew Charitable Trusts, up to 70% of antibiotics used in the U.S. go to farm animals that aren’t sick.

Overuse of antibiotics stimulates the growth of deadly strains of antibiotic resistant bacteria, so these farming practices are jeopardizing the effectiveness of antibiotic drugs. Many predict that we’ll look back on this era of effective antibiotics as a sort of “golden age” — a time when we lived without fear of most infectious diseases, ever confident that antibiotics would save us from any real harm.

Thanks to irresponsible farming practices, this golden age is coming to a swifter end. And now you have the chance to do something about it.

There are several healthcare and food safety reform bills going before congress right now, but HR 1549 and S 619 (known as the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act) will limit the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture to treating diagnosed diseases.

Why You Should Care About The Overuse of Antibiotics

From the Pew Charitable Trust’s Save Antibiotics campaign site, we learn:

  • Up to 70 percent of U.S. antibiotics go to animals raised on industrial farms that aren’t sick, to offset crowding and poor sanitation. This practice promotes the development of deadly strains of drug-resistant bacteria that can spread to humans.
  • Penicillins, tetracyclines, macrolides, sulfonamides and other antibiotic intended for humans are typically pre-mixed in poultry and livestock feed or added to drinking water, often giving food animals constant low doses of antibiotics over much of their entire lives.
  • Ninety percent of hogs and 97 percent of poultry are grown on factory farms in the United States.
  • Food-borne illnesses are becoming more difficult to treat due to the increase in antibiotic-resistant strains and the decreased effectiveness of antibiotics used as a first-line defense.
  • Consumers are exposed to resistant bacteria through the handling and consumption of contaminated meat, through produce that has been exposed to resistant bacteria in soil and water, or through direct contact with the bacteria in the environment.
  • Food-borne bacteria are more dangerous in their antibiotic-resistant forms, because they are harder to treat and may require multiple antibiotic treatments, longer hospital stays and other interventions before finally being eliminated.
  • Antibiotic-resistant bacteria cost the U.S. health care system an estimated $4 to $5 billion per year.
  • Each year 300,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths are caused by food contaminated by dangerous pathogens and bacteria such as Salmonella and E. Coli, which are increasingly becoming antibiotic resistant.
  • There are around 2.4 million Campylobacter infections in the U.S. and about half of these are resistant to at least one antibiotic. Nearly 14 percent of these infections are resistant to at least two drugs.

What You Can Do

If you are U.S. voter, contact your representatives and senators and tell them that you support PAMPTA. And don’t just send an email. Making a phone call will take less time than writing something thoughtful, and will be a hundred times more effective.

To contact your congressman, go to www.house.gov and use the form at the top of the page to find your congressman’s website and contact information.

To contact your senator, go to the senate’s website, find your senator, then click on their name to be taken to their website where you can find their office contact information.

Be Encouraged & Passionate

This is your chance to create REAL dent in the abuses of our food industry. As I said before, the current system can not survive if the use of antibiotics is restricted to only sick animals. If we successfully limit the use of antibiotics in industrial animal production, we will change the face of factory farms in this country!

Not only that, but we will help ensure the efficacy of antibiotics to treat potentially life-threatening infections in you, your children, and your grand children.

This post is part of today’s Real Food Wednesday blog carnival. For recipes, tips, news and stories about Real Food, go check it out!

(photo from the new Pew Charitable Trusts ad campaign)
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I am a passionate advocate for REAL FOOD -- food that's sustainable, organic, local, and traditionally-prepared according to the wisdom of our ancestors. I'm also an author and a nutrition educator. I enjoy playing in the rain, a good bottle of Caol Ila scotch, curling up with a page-turning book, sunbathing on my hammock, and watching my three children explore their world.

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4 Responses to Who’s Hogging Our Antibiotics?
  1. Kelly the Kitchen Kop
    June 10, 2009 | 8:13 pm

    Kristen, what a motivating post this is! You give a clear and simple way to make a big difference. First thing tomorrow morning I’m doing it.
    THANK YOU!
    Kelly p.s. Thanks for your link in the Real Food Wednesday carnival! Off to work on my post for your Fight Back Friday. :)

    Kelly the Kitchen Kop

  2. KristenM
    June 10, 2009 | 9:15 pm

    Kelly —

    You’re welcome! THANK YOU for being willing to contact your congressmen.

  3. Kitty Krueger
    June 11, 2009 | 7:03 am

    Kristen,
    Great post – perfect balance of informative and motivating. Your advice about calling your elected officials rather than writing them is smart. Our impact in this outreach has to be consistent and huge as it will be our voices against those of the producers whose livelihoods depend on their ability to continue doing what they have been doing. So, they’re bigger and more organized, which makes them powerful.
    All the best!
    Kitty

  4. Raine Saunders
    June 11, 2009 | 10:15 am

    Thanks for this post! I’m tweeting and stumbling it, and also put it on Facebook. This information is so important, and so many people close their eyes to it or just pretend it’s not occurring. I’m going to call my congressman this week and let him know how I feel! Keep up the great information Kristen! Cheers.

    Raine Saunders

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Who Am I?

My name is Kristen Michaelis. I'm a nutrition educator, author, and mother of three. I adore hats, happy skirts, horizons full of storm clouds, the full-bodied feel of wind as I ride motorcylces, reading in my hammock, and a hearty shot of Caol Ila scotch. I'm also a rebel with a cause.