Heavy use of antibiotics by livestock producers is largely unregulated by the government, and roughly 80 percent of the antibiotics used in America are given not to sick people, but to healthy animals, reports the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office. This antibiotic use could eventually have a "dangerous" impact on human health. Here's what you should know:
Why do animals take antibiotics?
Even when they're healthy, many American animals being raised for food are routinely fed antibiotics to ward off illness and promote growth.
And that's unsafe?
When livestock are fed a steady diet of antibiotics, "bacteria in the guts of those animals can become resistant," says Bill Tomson in The Wall Street Journal. "Humans are then at risk of consuming that mutated bacteria, often by eating contaminated meat directly." Antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or "superbugs," can also make the jump from infecting animals to infecting humans, as happened with the H5N1 bird flu virus.
Is the government addressing this problem?
No. In the entire federal government, there is no program that addresses the heavy use of antibiotics in agriculture, "except for one $70,400 USDA project," according to the GAO report. The FDA once proposed a voluntary program to reduce antibiotic use by farmers, but that proposal went nowhere. The GAO report also notes that no agency collects data on what animals are given which antibiotics or for what reason.
What does the agriculture industry have to say about this issue?
Big Pork has spoken out against the GAO report: The National Pork Producers Council claims there is "no scientific study linking antibiotic use in food animals to antibiotic resistance in humans." But the GAO report and other researchers have found a wealth of "peer-reviewed research demonstrating the link between antibiotic overuse in animals and resistant infections in people," says Tom Laskawy at Grist.
Sources: Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Food Safety News, Grist, Wall Street Journal
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- It's official: The religious right is calling it quits
- Obama just kneecapped Jeb Bush and Chris Christie's 2016 prospects
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- How science is accelerating our search for alien life
- 6 tiny scientific mistakes that created huge disasters
- The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1: 10 major differences between the book and the movie
- Inside Turkey's shadow war with ISIS
- The dangerously childish morality of liberal ObamaCare supporters
- 10 classic Sesame Street moments we wouldn't show today's kids
- The myth of the stay-at-home dad
Subscribe to the Week