You Can Thank Factory Farms When Antibiotics Stop Working

Image Credit: Brett Aruther Donar / Flickr. This image has been modified.

When a Scraped Knee May Once Again Kill

In a keynote address last year, the Director-General of the World Health Organization warned that we may be facing a future in which many of our miracle drugs no longer work. “A post-antibiotic era means, in effect, an end to modern medicine as we know it,” she said. “Things as common as strep throat or a child’s scratched knee could once again kill.”

The Director-General’s prescription to avoid this catastrophe included a global call to “Restrict the use of antibiotics in food production to therapeutic purposes.” In other words, only use antibiotics in agriculture to treat sick animals. In the United States, meat producers feed literally millions of pounds of antibiotics to farm animals who aren’t sick just to promote growth or prevent disease in the often cramped, stressful, unhygienic conditions of industrial animal agriculture. The FDA estimates that 80% of the antimicrobial drugs sold in the U.S. every year now go to the meat industry.

The discoverer of penicillin warned us back in the ’40s that misuse could lead to resistance, but the meat industry didn’t listen and started feeding it to chickens by the ton. The Food and Drug Administration finally wised up to the threat in 1977 and proposed stopping the feeding of penicillin and tetracycline to farm animals.

That was 37 years ago. Since then, the combined political power of the factory farming and pharmaceutical industries has effectively thwarted any legislative or regulatory action. This stranglehold shows no sign of breaking. We realized this reckless practice was a public health threat decades ago, and yet what’s been done about it?

“Present [farm animal] production is concentrated in high-volume, crowded, stressful environments, made possible in part by the routine use of antibacterial [drugs] in [the] feed,” the U.S. Congressional Office of Technology Assessment wrote in 1979. “Thus the current dependency on low-level use of antibiotics to increase or maintain production, while of immediate benefit, also could be the Achilles’ heel of present production methods.”

Industrial operations use antibiotics as a crutch to compensate for the squalid conditions that now characterize much of modern agribusiness. The unnatural crowding of animals and their waste creates such a strain on the animals’ immune systems that normal body processes like growth may be impaired. That’s why a constant influx of antibiotics is thought to accelerate weight gain by reducing this infectious load. The problem is that “Each animal feeding on an antibiotic becomes a ‘factory’ for the production and subsequent dispersion of antibiotic-resistant bacteria,” offering a whole new meaning to the term “factory farm” (see my 3-min video Past the Age of Miracles: Facing a Post-Antibiotic Age for details).

What else do they feed farm animals? Check out:

This issue, perhaps more than any other, lays to bare the power of moneyed interests to undermine public health. Look at the long list of endorsers of legislation to reform this practice. Sadly, though, the sway of nearly every single medical organization in the United States is no match for the combined might of Big Ag and Big Pharma.

For more on this issue, see:

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here and watch my full 2012 – 2015 presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

16 responses to “When a Scraped Knee May Once Again Kill

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  1. This does not pertain to this post, but I have a pressing question (for me) that has not been answered elsewhere. The web site says to post questions under “any video or blog”. (The most recent may get an answer?) Does the oxalate in spinach prevent/reduce the absorption of calcium from other green leafy vegetables when eaten together?

    1. My understanding is that the oxalic acid in spinach is already bound to the calcium in spinach, thus it cannot bind to the calcium in other foods.

      1. I don’t think it’s actually bound in the spinach, but the net effect is the same. The amount of calcium is spinach is more than sufficient to bind the oxalic acid (as calcium oxalate), leaving a small amount of calcium behind for you to absorb. The same is true for swiss chard and beet greens, though they have somewhat less oxalic acid. Cooking reduces the oxalic acid.

    2. You should look into how your body uses and distributes calcium. Research done in my country by Dr Cees Vermeer shows Vitamin K2 will strip calcium from tissues where it doesn’t belong (blood vessels and other soft tissue) and resettle it in bones building them back up with femur neck actually thickening as a result.

      You will need 360 mgr a day for this. An amount only realistically attainable by eating natto (40-50+ gr/d). Probably best to combine it with a already solid K1 intake through consumption of kale.

      You could go the cheese way but that would require eating half a kilogram of cheese a day. Better to just stick with the fermented beans., We all know the benefits of beans.

      I think its a great package deal natto, clean circulatory system, good bones, and dampenend insulin spike all in a 50 gr portion.

  2. I appreciate this information. This is the kind of information that I show my patient and that really pushes them (especially the pregnant and nursing ones but also the parents who cook for their kids) away from eating these foods because of their toxicity! Parents are getting more educated and now are even asking not only me but other providers I work with are there other ways to treat (rather than medications) anxiety, ADD, ADHD in their children and keep them the healthiest?
    “And yes Virginia, there really is. . . “

    1. It is not about us, as individuals, building up a tolerance to antibiotics. It is about the bacteria themselves becoming resistant to the antibiotics. Your previous exposure or lack of exposure will not affect how well the antibiotic works if you get sick with a bacteria that is resistant.

      1. Then I guess it’s ‘cook all my meals at home with organic plant foods and limit my exposure to large public gatherings’ routine I’ve had for years. Must be why I haven’t had a cold or flue in decades.

        1. Don’t get your self so down. Look at the old times when they used Copper door handles at hospitals. germs can’t live on it and can’t become resistant to it either. Just like Colloidal silver the bacteria can’t adapt to that either. It may be one of that few heavy hitters in a antibiotic resistant world. there are other like Garlic etc.

  3. My daughter has been in the hospital (ICU) since the middle of January due to an infection through an open wound (true, she had other health problems also). She was so sick, that we thought she would die and had that conversation with her. Slowly she is improving and still in ICU!

  4. In Denmark 25.000 pigs dies every day before the age of 4 weeks in production facilities – 9.000.000 pigs per year. And the human population is 5.000.000. And Denmark is one of the most civilized countries in the world…..

    1. really sad… imagine a tomb for every animal slaughter in the recent human history… it’s an holocaust difficult to figure out…

    2. Denmark is the same country that thought it was perfectly acceptable to kill a healthy young giraffe by putting a bolt through his head & then butcher him in front of children. Denmark does not strike me as particularly civilized.

  5. Mmmm.. I’m not so happy reading/seeing this. The shift toward animal suffering that is shown through pictures like the one topping this article I mean.

    The tremendous strength of this site is staying away from moralising about animal rights and living conditions. And just offering the advice toward better health through better food choices.

    In a world where a bum on the side of the road is worth no more then the rubbish that surrounds him, talking animal rights is futile anyway.
    High octane homeless Louie CK:

    America is clearly a very very sick nation on a path 15 years ahead of us europeans obesity wise and way way less government protection again corporate greed. This should provide a big enough slice of the population to cater too.

    Moving over to morality, catering to the less than 1 percent vegans, will only lose Nutritionfacts readers instead of gaining them.

    Please Dr. Greger stay away from morality.

    I understand it must be difficult with probably thronges of vegans crowding up your email pleading to go the moral high road. But it scares away all the main stream people who need your help most desperately.


  6. This seems worthy of a YouTube video for sharing purposes. Very important information here and a quick search of YouTube didn’t turn up a good video.

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