Can You Imagine a World Without Antibiotics?

The FDA banks on the livestock industry to police their use of antimicrobial drugs in animal feed.

| February 9, 2012

livestock feed

Do we trust the livestock industry to chaperone themselves when it comes to adding antibiotics to animal feed?


On January 4, 2012, the New York Times published an article applauding the FDA for regulating antibiotic use on livestock in an attempt to curb the increasing bacterial resistance to common antimicrobial drugs used to treat a host of human illnesses including pneumonia, strep, bronchial and urinary tract infections. This left us scratching our heads, as just the week before, the Guardian in the UK published an article reporting that during the holiday season, while no one was paying attention, the FDA quietly scaled back its regulations on antibiotics in animal feed.

So which is it? Well, if you know anything about the FDA, you would probably guess that the Guardian article was correct, and, you'd be right. The FDA's decision was to continue to regulate one class of antibiotics called cephalosporins (which constitute a mere .3 percentĀ of antibiotics used in animal feed), but to scale back its controlled use of all other drugs in hopes that industry would do the right thing and chaperone itself.

Sound familiar? How often, in recent years, have government agencies such as the FDA, USDA, and EPA deferred to corporations to police themselves? (See OCA alert: Stop USDA's Plans for Monsanto to Police Itself! as just one example.)

Tell the FDA to do their job and regulate the reckless and irresponsible use of antibiotics on factory farms. Otherwise we might find ourselves in a time warp back to the 1920s, when simple things like cuts and minor infections could be deadly.

4/11/2012 4:05:43 PM

ok what about the Doctors who give out a anitbiotics for a virus ! , come on people use your head and stop blameing just the farmer get on the Ddoctors who give it out like candy I'v see it and know it's been done,

susan frise
3/28/2012 10:39:50 PM

The only dairy is dairy from cows that eat only grass; farmers are now supplementing dairy cow's diet with ground corn into which vitamins (and who knows what else) are added. Buy Irish cheese & butter--it comes only from grass-fed dairy cows!

jackie southern
3/23/2012 7:34:29 PM

I hope you are talking about percentage for the amount of cows being slaughtered. If your not that doesn't make sence because there are WAY more people now than there was in the early 1900. Also your comment should tell you something, that it is not natural for the animals to grow that big that quick. Hence the loss of nutrition. Back then prob 95 percent of families had their own garden and livestock so yes one animal was being kill per family in how ever many days, but the food was being eaten unlike now we have big slatted houses killing animals and if the meat starts looking green no one wants it so it goes in the trash. The good scientific reason would be what does it matter what age you live till if you are not healthy. Also it's those big drug companies that are trying to kill us by making more diseases and holding back cures because they won't make as much money. Think about it.

emmer holbrook
3/15/2012 8:21:18 PM

in 1909 my grandmother gave birth ot her first child, a son she named henry. in 1910 henry developed a gastroenteritis that killed him in just a few days. in 1923, her 9 year old daughter, helen, felt ill one afternoon. by evening, they called the doctor. he ordered her into the hospital. by morning, helen was dead of pneumonia. the use of antibiotics to increase growth rates in livestock does speed the development of antibiotic resistance. failure to regulate this practice will result in our returning to live in grandmother's world.

t brandt
2/22/2012 4:22:33 PM

Life expectancy in the US in 1936 when Soc Sec was mad law was only 48yrs. Four yrs later, sulfa drugs & PCN came into use and life exp suddenly. went up to 63 yrs....There were 13% fewer cows slaughtered in the US in 2007 than in 1977 ( ) but they produced 13% more meat- thanks to things like "GH" & antibiotic use. That means a lower impact on environmental resources as we feed ourselves....There's no good, scientific reason not to use antibiotics in meat production and good reason to use them. Benefits far outweigh risks.

t brandt
2/22/2012 4:09:04 PM ...From the 1st paragraph of the summary : 0 of 42 vegans from a hursing home had vre, while 10 of 62 meat eaters FROM ANOTHER HOME had vre. 2nd paragraph: in another study, 31 of 318 vegans had vre, while 13 of 276 controls had vre. ...One must conclude the first nursing home study had a hygiene problem in the control NH. and vre has nothing to do with eating meat.

teach 2012
2/22/2012 3:21:25 AM

Sure, I can easily imagine a world without antibiotics--the world of my parents, when children routinely got heart damage from rheumatic fever, as there were no antibiotics to fight strep throat and scarlet fever, which then led to rheumatic fever. Without antibiotics, I would have been dead at age 31 of pneumonia.

adam swenson
2/15/2012 2:43:39 AM

If this was all done out in the open including labeling, people could vote with their wallets more easily. I've seen quite a lot of evidence that VRE spread in humans is at least contributed to by use of antibiotics in livestock, including a study where 40 vegetarians had no VRE colonization while 7% of meat eaters did; late 90s

t brandt
2/11/2012 11:45:39 AM

Before all the TreeHuggers get their shorts in a bunch, please note that (a) antibiotic resistance is a natural phenomenon- evolutionary selection- as the prey grows bigger horns to defend themselves against bigger fangs, then the predator grows bigger fangs etc etc. (b) antibiotic rsisistant strains in humans are accelerating because of improper use of antibiotics in humans (caused by unreasonable expectations of medicine by the American public) .. There's no evidence that the resistant strains are derived from animals (c) Animal strains are generally not human pathogens. (d) One doesn't "catch" bacterial infections from the environment. We all, for instance, have S. pneumoniae in our lungs right now. Our immune system keeps them in check. When our resistance goes down, then they can expand their populations, cause pneumonia, the "old man's friend," and kill us. We're all covered wiith Staph, our bowels are loaded with E.coli & our ear canals all have encysted Pseudomonas. We get most of our bacterial infections from ourselves, not our food.(e) This all gets back to efficiency: antibiotics add ~50lb/head on cattle. Better feed efficiency means a lower strain on the environment, not to mention lower food costs. All engineering solutions involve a compromise among the competing factors.

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