Interesting that this appeared in the Huffington Post just before the H1N1 stories starting popping up: Enemies of the People, by Carl Pope.
In it, he describes the efforts of Louise Slaughter (we’ll ignore the irony of her name) to pass legislation in congress to “ban the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock.” The issue? Feeding antibiotics to healthy animals – as U.S. livestock companies do on an alarmingly consistent basis – increases the odds of developing antiobiotic resistant viruses:
Seventy percent of the antibiotics used in the U.S. are fed to healthy animals — well, animals that would be healthy if they weren’t overcrowded and improperly fed. These antibiotics are used on animals that are not sick in order to prevent disease from erupting in these facilities. Such massive prophylactic use of antibiotics encourages bacteria to develop resistant strains, and now medicine is on the verge of running out of drugs that haven’t been rendered useless for human health by being misused to allow animal abuse.
The Infectious Disease Society of America calls it a public health crisis; the president of the American Farm Bureau says there’s no public health threat. Which are you going to believe – the guy whose job it is to protect profits by “pork producers,” or the doctors whose job it is to keep epidemics controlled?
Why do doctors and agribusiness disagree so vehemently? Well, if you read what the Farm Bureau says carefully, they argue that the superbugs in pigs don’t survive cooking your pork chop — which is technically true but fatally flawed. First, the bugs in uncooked meat end up on cooking surfaces and inadequately washed hands and can contaminate consumers indirectly in a host of ways. But more importantly, the issue is not whether we are exposed to superbugs through eating meat — it’s where we breed them. Because once these bacteria take hold down on the farm, they spread on their own, not just through the meat counter.
Which, of course, is exactly the point of the current H151 aka Factory Farming Flu. At least its not (yet) antibiotic-resistant.