FDA Takes Half Measure to Regulate Dangerous Antibiotic Use on Factory Farms

meatbacteria.jpgIn December, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) abandoned its previous intention to regulate the use of antibiotics on factory farms, despite the fact that the overuse of antibiotics on farms has already led to the evolution of deadly, antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. However, in an apparent about-face, the agency announced today that it would begin limiting the use of cephalosporin antibiotics in livestock starting in April 2012.

Unfortunately, while cephalosporins are an important class of antibiotic used to treat human illnesses, they are not as widely used for livestock as penicillin, tetracycline and other drugs that experts say pose a threat to human health when used by factory farmers to force animals to grow more rapidly and to keep them alive in filthy, disease-ridden conditions that would otherwise kill them.

"This is a modest first step by the FDA, but we're really just looking at the tip of the iceberg," says Representative Louise Slaughter (D - NY28), a congresswoman from New York and microbiologist who has been outspoken on this issue. "We don't have time for the FDA to ploddingly take half-measures. We are staring at a massive public health threat in the rise of antibiotic-resistant superbugs. We need to start acting with the swiftness and decisiveness this problem deserves."

According to the FDA, 80 percent of antibiotics in the United States are used to promote rapid growth in farmed animals rather than to treat illnesses in humans. In 1977, the FDA became aware that the overuse of antibiotics on factory farms was creating antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria that seriously threaten public health. Instead of regulating the use of antibiotics on farms, the FDA stalled for more than three decades. Now, the federal agency charged with protecting public health has decided to continue to allow factory farmers to breed deadly strains of untreatable bacteria and to contaminate the country's meat supply.

A study released earlier this year found that nearly half of the beef, pork, chicken and turkey in grocery stores is contaminated with staphylococcus aureus bacteria and that 52 percent of the bacteria is resistant to at least three classes of antibiotic drugs. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 11,000 people die from S. aureus infections in the United States each year and more than half of those deaths stem from drug-resistant strains of the bacteria. And these are just strains of one antibiotic-resistant bacteria. It has been estimated that the total cost of treating antibiotic-resistant infections in the United States exceeds $20 billion a year.

Thankfully, an easy and effective way to safeguard your own health and prevent the needless suffering of animals is to choose plant-based alternatives to bacteria-infested meat, dairy and eggs. Visit ChooseVeg.com for delicious, cruelty-free recipes and tips on transitioning to a healthy and humane vegan lifestyle.