Avoidable problem spreads

The recall of 36 million pounds of ground turkey this month that killed one person and severely sickened more than 100 since spring due to an antibiotic-resistant strain of bacteria called salmonella Heidelberg was predictable.

For decades, scientists have warned that the practice of

pumping cattle, poultry and pigs full of antibiotics would create strains of bacteria resistant to antibiotics. And so it has.

And yet, because of the power that the farming and pharmaceutical lobbies wage, many pretend that there is still something to “debate,” when, in fact, the practice needed to be banned long ago. The European Union did so in 2006, except to treat actual illness in animals.

Industry is “cautious” about regulation, the Wall Street Journal reports. Actually, industry is completely resistant. Supporters say consistently putting antibiotics in feed may actually help human health by reducing animal diseases, the paper reported. These supporters, of course, are not scientists. That’s how they come up with fanciful ideas like “antibiotics in feed may actually help human health.”

Here’s another rationalization: Supporters say the antibiotics promote livestock growth — because the animals use up less energy fighting off infections — and bring lower meat prices for consumers, the Journal reported. Apparently it’s assumed Americans are willing to trade health for cheap meat.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration reports that the U.S. meat industry uses 29 million pounds of antibiotics every year, while humans in the U.S. use 7 million pounds per year, Mother Jones reported. In other words — in a country where it’s accepted fact that humans take too many antibiotics — factory farm animals consume the majority of the drugs, about 80 percent. Wow. That’s because they are fed antibiotics every day, in their feed, like vitamins.

Last year, the FDA belatedly, and barely, addressed the problem, by issuing “voluntary” guidelines. Why would any group agree to guidelines that they deny are needed at all? (Last year, Dave Warner of the pork council demanded: “Show us the science that use of antibiotics in animal production is causing this antibiotic resistance.”)

While decades of research shows overuse leads to resistance, a new University of Maryland School of Public Health study demonstrates that poultry farms using organic methods that don’t involve antibiotics have significantly lower levels of drug-resistant bacteria that can potentially spread to humans.

The misuse of antibiotics, and denial by the industry that it matters, is a perfect example of why the FDA was created in the first place. The regulatory agency needs to do its job.

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