Ever since the 1970s, scientists have been urgently warning us about the link between antibiotic additives in livestock feed and drug-resistant superbugs that pose a critical threat to human health. Decades later, our nation’s leaders still aren’t taking this concerning public health hazard seriously.
Back in November of 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO), a United Nations agency concerned with protecting public health, rolled out a new set of guidelines on antibiotic use in animals. After experts from WHO conducted a two-year scientific research study on the public health implications of giving antibiotics to livestock and poultry, the agency called for farms to put an end to the common practice of administering drugs that are “critically important for human medicine” to perfectly healthy animals in order to fatten them up or prevent illness.
Further, WHO recommended that antibiotics only be given to sick animals or healthy animals being raised in close proximity to sick ones. Even then, WHO experts advised, drugs which are vital for human health should not be used.
With these guidelines, WHO aimed to help our society preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics so that we can avoid major health epidemics in the near future. Unfortunately, the Trump Administration doesn’t seem to understand why limiting antibiotic use in farm animals is vital to prevent superbugs, and the Administration is resisting WHO’s efforts to do so.
Even though WHO is one of the most well-respected, scientifically meticulous bodies on the planet, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is skeptical of the evidence provided by the agency to support its recent guidelines. Officials from the USDA are reportedly helping to draft an alternative animal antibiotic policy which — surprise, surprise! — appears to be more beneficial for big meat and dairy companies.
Last year, the practice of using medically important antibiotics to promote growth in farm animals was banned in the U.S. Under this policy, such drugs are still permitted to be used to treat or prevent disease in livestock, but only if a veterinary prescription recommends it.
Unfortunately, these steps to preserve the drugs’ effectiveness and protect public health could be reversed if the recommendations currently being written by the USDA are put into practice rather than the WHO guidelines. Reportedly, the USDA’s draft proposes that farms should be permitted to give healthy animals antibiotics to prevent disease and even contains what seems to be a loophole once again permitting the recently outlawed practice of using drugs to promote animal growth.
In the words of David Wallinga, a member of the panel that drafted the WHO guidelines and a senior health officer at the Natural Resources Defense Council advocacy group, the disapproving response “wasn’t a complete surprise from an administration that consistently puts the profits and interest of powerful industries, like the meat and pharmaceutical industries, over the health of the American people.”
Sadly, Wallinga’s comment is spot-on: The U.S. government is more concerned with lining the pockets of big meat and dairy corporations than protecting the health of its citizens. While we wait for our leaders to wake up and recognize that antibiotic use in livestock and poultry poses a real threat to our society, there are several things we can do to enact change ourselves.
First off, we can stand up against antibiotic use and reduce our exposure to these drugs by cutting back on meat and dairy. With our leaders failing to take action, it’s up to us to make the right choices to save ourselves from the detrimental health impacts of eating animals pumped full of antibiotics!
To learn more about the scary connection between factory farms and public health, check out the #EatForThePlanet book.
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