March 04, 2007

Antibiotics for Feedlot Cattle: A Public Health Threat

You may not know it (though hopefully if you're a regular reader, you do), but you should be outraged by a plan to approve powerful antibiotics for use in cattle:

The government is on track to approve a new antibiotic to treat a pneumonia-like disease in cattle, despite warnings from health groups and a majority of the agency's own expert advisers that the decision will be dangerous for people.

The drug, called cefquinome, belongs to a class of highly potent antibiotics that are among medicine's last defenses against several serious human infections. No drug from that class has been approved in the United States for use in animals.

The American Medical Association and about a dozen other health groups warned the Food and Drug Administration that giving cefquinome to animals would probably speed the emergence of microbes resistant to that important class of antibiotics, as has happened with other drugs. Those super-microbes could then spread to people. ...

Yet another way in which our dysfunctional food system negatively impacts all of us. Yet another topic which should be getting top billing in the media because of the broad reach and scope of the problem, but doesn't.

Do you know where your beef comes from?

Well, if you don't, then it probably came from a feedlot. It probably came from a cow that was fed grain and other non-grass things, which is hard on the cow and produces a less healthy meat (pdf). The cow that your beef came from probably lived in cramped and unsanitary conditions that are ideal for spreading disease.

Instead of moving back towards raising animals in open pasture and letting them gather their own grass, just like they're born to do, the industrial farming establishment wants to take some of the most powerful antibiotics developed and add them to the inappropriate and often disgusting slop they feed the animals in their care. They want to take the drugs that are the last barrier between humans and antibiotic-resistant microbes and expose countless bacteria to them over a wide geographic range, maximizing the chance that newly resistant strains will emerge and have a chance to get into the food chain or water supply. They want to do this in spite of evidence that the casual use of antibiotics to promote growth is itself a significant cause of the emergence of antibiotic-resistant illness in feedlot animals.

There's no other way to see such a plan than as a direct assault on public health. You may want to write your representatives about it.

Natasha is currently an intern with the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, an organization dedicated to outreach and education in sustainable agriculture and food systems issues. The opinions expressed in this post are her own and are not representations on behalf of MFAI. For regular legislative alerts about food sustainability issues, sign up with the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture.

Posted by natasha at March 4, 2007 09:29 AM | Agriculture | TrackBack(2) | Technorati links |

Mike the Mad Biologist has been discussing this topic. He is not a happy camper.

Posted by: Scorpio at March 7, 2007 11:38 AM