When it comes to antibiotics in the United States, it turns out that humans are not the biggest users: not by a long shot. A statistic from 2011 found that an alarming majority (80%) of antibiotics bought in the United States are used for animals involved in the meat and poultry industries. This adds up to approximately 13.1 million kilograms (almost 29 million pounds!) of antibiotics being pumped into animals each year.
With the amount of antibiotics in the food industry, it may come as no surprise that the drugs are not set aside solely for use on sick and injured animals, but instead are many times just as often used on healthy animals as well. A survey of more than 60 retail, fast food, production and grocery companies found that the majority of these companies used antibiotics unnecessarily on animals that were healthy. Additionally, the survey was able to discern a company’s level of transparency regarding their antibiotic use.
In a rather cut-and-dry table, companies under question were listed in order of their amount of disclosure (most to least) as well as the ranking of their policy (antibiotic-free to routine antibiotic use). Food companies like Chipotle and Sweetgreen received high marks for their policies, as did Whole Foods, Applegate Farms, and Coleman Natural Foods. Those that did not do so well were Panda Express, Popeye’s and Domino’s, Walmart and Tyson Chicken.
“Through my survey, the food industry has provided us valuable information, and with that knowledge we must act,” explained Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY), who issued the survey, on the day that the results were released. “I urge consumers to consider today’s findings when shopping, and I urge the FDA and my colleagues in Congress to strengthen our laws in order to fight the growing threat of superbugs. Until we do, the routine use of antibiotics will continue to breed antibiotic-resistant bacteria that threaten human health.”
Superbugs, bacteria that develop a resistance to common antibiotics, can be lethal as they can transfer quickly and cannot be easily treated or cured by our otherwise “life-saving” drugs. Farms are breeding grounds for these types of diseases, as treated animals act as the perfect hosts. When humans handle or eat raw or undercooked meat that is infected the transfer is made. Until the antibiotic use declines, the threat of untreated superbugs will continue to rise.
Slaughter is looking to fix this problem through legislation she penned that would decrease the amount of antibiotics in circulation in the food industry. The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA) “would preserve the effectiveness of medically important antibiotics by phasing out the use of these drugs in healthy food-producing animals, while allowing their use for treatment of sick animals. The legislation also requires the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to apply the same tough standards to new applications for approval of animal antibiotics.”
Without a doubt, the amount of antibiotic use in the food industry is nothing if not excessive. In order to ensure the safety of the consumer, as well as the quality of food, unnecessary antibiotics must be taken out of the equation. By reducing the amount of antibiotics in the food chain, we can protect a food source that is in increasing demand and lessen the threat that a superbug formed in the slaughter house reaches and causes damage to those that consume it.
To urge members of Congress to phase out the use of antibiotics in healthy food-producing animals, and to ask your Congressperson to pass PAMTA, sign the petition here.
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