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Antibiotic Resistant Superbugs: The Chicken That Threw Me a Change-Up

2/26/2013 3:50:38 PM

Tags: sustainable farming, real food, Food Patriots, antibiotic resistance, Campylobacter, Good Food Festival,

According to FDA data, the quantity of antibiotics sold for livestock use in this country continues to rise, topping 29 million pounds in 2011. This has a direct effect on the efficacy these same drugs will have on us. Sam Spitz has personal experience with a resistant illness and asked him to tell his story. It’s a cautionary tale that should have us all making better food choices. Read how we can all influence the campaign to end the misuse of antibiotics in livestock and keep antibiotics working for us when we need them! 


Seven years ago I had big dreams of playing in the Major Leagues. My fastball topped 86 mph. My curve broke from 12:00 to 6:00. And at 15, I was already entering my second season on varsity. Local scouts were drooling. They called almost every night, and even invited me to professional tryouts.

Then I ate a chicken Caesar salad that changed my life.

It was two weeks before my first sophomore start and I was rearing to go. I’d added 3 inches and 20 pounds to my frame in the off season and an extra 5 mph Sam Spitzto the fastball. I owed it to hard work and a healthy diet. Baseball meant the world to me, so I did everything I could to gain an edge. That’s why I went with a chicken Caesar salad instead of pizza one day when my teammates and I went to lunch after practice. It was the healthy choice, right?

Three hours later I was doubled over in the back of our car on the way to the emergency room. I had to wear a diaper. The chicken was contaminated with Campylobacter, a food-borne illness. It ate right through the lining of my intestines. Our bathroom was covered in blood.

The doctors had no trouble diagnosing me. Campylobacter is not uncommon. It’s supposed to be treatable with any wide spectrum antibiotic, two to four days tops.

Mine lasted a month. It was a “superbug,” like the ones you’ve heard about on the news.

Nothing would cure me. We tried antibiotic after antibiotic. Nada. I just kept withering away.

By the time it was all said and done I’d dropped 30 pounds. I couldn’t even trot out to the pitcher’s mound without wheezing. My season ended, and so did the calls from scouts.

I never pitched again.

It took me several months to gain my strength back. And when I did I decided to focus on football, a sport that let me feel invincible again. Fortunately, I made a full recovery and went on to play football at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. But a lot of people aren’t as lucky.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria kill more Americans every year than AIDS. I met the families of some of those victims last year when I went to Washington, D.C., with the Pew Foundation to lobby for the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act(PAMTA, H.R. 965, S. 1211). Their stories inspired me to share mine in a new documentary film called Food Patriots.

Food Patriots is about ordinary people who are taking revolutionary steps to change the food system. The goal of the project is to get consumers to change the way they eat, buy and educate the next generation about food by 10 percent. That’s 10 percent more fresh, local and organic foods — 10 percent from wherever you are on the continuum.

Superbugs are the byproduct of unsustainable meat production, in particular, the overuse of antibiotics in Contained Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). Factory farms suck up 70 percent of America’s antibiotics. And worse, they use most of ‘em on healthy animals!

We have the power to change that. If consumers demand antibiotic-free meat then producers will absolutely give it to them. It’s basic supply and demand. As consumers learn to demand better food they’ll pressure supply and policy changes to our food system.

But change won’t come all at once.

That’s why Food Patriots is asking consumers to make a reasonable 10 percent shift. It’s doable. And effective.

Chicken Caesar salads shouldn’t be able to change lives. So I hope you’ll take the 10 percent challenge with me, because even if I can’t pitch again, together we can strike antibiotics out of the food system.

- Sam Spitz

Sam Spitz will graduate from Colgate University in Spring 2013, where he transferred after playing football for UW-Madison. Sam is a documentary filmmaker and frequent speaker with Food Patriots, a film and public engagement campaign by Groundswell Educational Films, and an advocate for a more sustainable food system. He has also appeared on Maryn McKenna’s blog and lobbied with the Pew Foundation in Washington, D.C. 

We’re excited to announce that we’ll be showing a rough cut of the film Food Patriots at the Good Food Festival this year! Here’s their trailer:



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Jenifer Keni
3/11/2013 3:36:15 AM
t brandt u are so full of bs and dont deserve to be on this site. you deserve to have a couple of mutant children and see how you feel about the food system. i will laugh as you die of cancer prematurely and wonder why. its people like you who are ignorant of the agricultural system and what it does to our future because you are selfish and feel you know enough. so toast to u and drink up your puss filled bovine milk. you probably work for the fda or some crappy company tht paid u to bash all people trying to protect themselves from parasites like you

t brandt
2/27/2013 12:18:25 PM
"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves." Campylobacter infections are generally self-limited, requiring no antibiotic treatment. These are often given in severe cases with no empirical evidence that they actually work. While I'm sorry for this author's plight, it was something in his personal immune system that gave him the continuing problem, not a problem with the use of antibiotics in chickens. ...By using antibiotics in producing meat, more efficient use of land & resources ensues (more food from less land) That's good for the environment.... Don't forget that we have 7 billion mouths to feed & that will grow to 10 billion in the next 30 yrs. They can't all eat free range chicken.

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