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Resistant Infections Run Rampant During Public Health Crisis but the Government Stayed Quiet

Animals Given Antibiotics Triggered a Public Health Crisis Antibiotics Created Modern Agriculture

An alarming number of infections are gaining a resistance to antibiotics. Bouts of gastrointestinal illnesses, recurring urinary tract infections, and staph are quickly becoming harder and harder to treat.

The CDC’s numbers are startling, 2 million people a year are becoming infected with resistant illnesses, and 23,000 a year are dying from them. According to an article by Mother Jones, the antibiotic resistant strains have triggered a public health crisis, so it’s about time the government has begun limiting antibiotics in animal agriculture.

The Back Story

The article dives into a rather disturbing look at the farming industry as told in Maryn McKenna’s book, Big Chicken: The Incredible Story of How Antibiotics Created Modern Agriculture and Changed the Way the World Eats. She says that agribusiness and Big Pharma never accepted that giving livestock antibiotics would impact humans in such a sinister way. She also highlights how the U.S. government let alarm bells ring for decades; all to make sure the farming and livestock industry was booming—despite the consequences. Even if those consequences are now killing us.

Today’s antibiotics can conquer diseases that killed humans for millennia. So, it’s no wonder that by the 1950’s meat processors dipped chicken carcasses in antibiotic serums. But according to the book, this wasn’t just to keep meat fresh longer—it was to sanitize the meat of sick and unhealthy birds. Around the same time, it was discovered that putting antibiotics in livestock feed would make the animals grow much faster. Soon antibiotics were everywhere.

An Eerie Silence

However, problems that became early indicators of the current public health crisis, popped up pretty regularly. By 1956 antibiotic-resistant infections in humans were linked to farming. According to the article, even studies funded by the meat industry proved antibiotic resistance in humans who were consuming treated meat.

There was an outbreak in the U.K. in 1977 of resistant infections. Their parliament took action and this led our own FDA commissioner to look into the banning growth-promoting antibiotics from American agriculture. But Animal feed manufacturers and livestock producers quickly pushed back by lobbying to Congress. Congress then threatened to cut the FDA’s budget. There was even a provision that was renewed until 1995 that blocked any restrictions on the use of antibiotics in livestock.

But facts don’t always listen to lawmakers and the evidence of antibiotic resistance in humans kept mounting. In 1984, a study linked antibiotic-resistant infections and deadly food-borne illnesses to antibiotic use on farms. The infections passed from animals to people through the meat - and then from person to person. The public health crisis worsened and doctors struggled to fight the resistant infections. It wasn’t until 2000 that the FDA dangled its toes in the waters of antibiotics on farms. They banned one type of antibiotic and were quickly sued by Big Pharma.

Public Health Crisis

Under the Obama administration, the FDA restricted antibiotics, but through only voluntarily measures. By this point however, some producers, like Perdue and Bell & Evans, were already moving away from antibiotics. They embraced cleaner farming practices in general. Turns out the antibiotics weren’t needed in clean facilities where sick animals weren’t spreading diseases among each other.

The bottom line here is that our government was never ahead of this public health crisis. The lack of oversight and restrictions gave rise to drug resistant antibiotics. Agencies were left to apply bandages to bullets wounds; it makes one wonder how other crises are handled… or mishandled.

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