Today's Food System: All Drugged Up

There's something seriously wrong with a food system that requires 80 percent of the country's antibiotics just to maintain itself. This food isn't healthy, and it's making -- and keeping -- us sick.
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The next time you're feeling sick, think twice before going to your doctor for answers. Look down at your plate, instead.

Hidden in your hamburger or smoked ham may be something you didn't want or expect on the menu -- antibiotic-resistant superbugs. Instead of protecting you from infectious diseases, antibiotics might simply be making you sick.

Just last month, the FDA confirmed that 80 percent of all antibiotics used in the U.S. go to animal agriculture. No joke, 80 percent! This is true insanity and scientists fear that this extreme overuse of antibiotics is putting our children, elderly and families at serious risk.

When antibiotics are used (as they have been since the 1940s), they kill off all targeted bacteria, except for those that by chance have a favorable mutation. These survivors go on to multiply, producing a drug resistant army of bacteria. It's evolution at its finest.

The bottom line? The more we use antibiotics, the more resistant strains develop. In many cases, these can infect humans, leading to prolonged illness or even death because the standard treatment no longer works. People stay sick longer, spreading resistant bacteria to others, all while putting a huge strain on our medical system.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council the scientific consensus is that non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock animals is a serious threat to public health. Yet, the vast majority (the previously mentioned astounding 80 percent) of antibiotics used in the U.S. is used on livestock animals, much of it on animals that are not sick. In fact, the FDA has recognized, since at least 1977 that the use of some antibiotics (and 80 percent is a heck of a lot more than "some") for non-therapeutic uses in livestock animals poses a risk to human health because of the rise of antibacterial resistance. They have acknowledged themselves the danger so its not much of a stretch to demand the FDA move quickly to withdraw the use of these antibiotics for livestock animals who aren't sick. If the FDA does not act quickly, as it should, then Congress should move ahead with legislation to ban such uses (Congresswoman Louise Slaughter from NY is introducing a bill she first submitted in 2009. Email her your support).

It's just common sense: antibiotics should be protected, used only when necessary and in the most effective manner as determined by medical professionals.

But that's not what's happening. In our corporate-controlled food system, factory farmers routinely feed antibiotics to their cattle, pigs, chickens and other animals. Sometimes these antibiotics are meant to cure illnesses but often they are used to spur growth and weight gain in their animals, fattening them up for our growing American appetites. Meatless Mondays, anyone?

And even when antibiotics are needed to actually cure infections in livestock, these illnesses are anything but natural -- caused instead by horrible conditions, in which animals are crowded into filthy, confined spaces, spreading disease at alarming rates, all to keep up with growing American appetites.

As has been reported, every year more than 90 thousand Americans die from bacterial infections that have developed a resistance to antibiotics. That's number exceeds the death toll from AIDS, car accidents and prostate cancer combined. In many cases, these deaths might have been prevented if only the appropriate antibiotic still worked.

It's shameful and repulsive that so much of our scientific genius goes into producing drugs for our livestock -- allowing big factory farming operations to keep animals in vile conditions, forced to gain weight at excessive and unnatural rates.

The reckless use of these drugs puts the lives of our children in danger. When rushed to the hospital, patients deserve to be given the most effective medicines, not told that the best drugs were already used up on ill-treated livestock.

There's something seriously wrong with a food system that requires 80 percent of the country's antibiotics just to maintain itself. This food isn't healthy, and it's making -- and keeping -- us sick.

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