Antibiotics: Agribusinesses’ Pound of Flesh

Antibiotics: Agribusinesses’ Pound of Flesh
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The FDA’s suggestion that the meat industry voluntarily stop feeding antibiotics by the ton to farm animals to fatten them faster falls short of the changes needed to forestall the epidemic of antibiotic resistance.

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When farm animals are fed antibiotics, they can develop antibiotic-resistant bacteria in their guts and then the gut bacteria becomes manure on meat, which can spread to humans–even vegetarian humans, since drug resistant bacteria in the animal feces can also spread to people through crops or the environment. The exhaust fans can blow MRSA superbugs straight out into the surrounding area from pig operations, or poultry operations. You can find MRSA floating around outside these sheds containing thousands of turkeys or chickens. This may explain why in Europe, human MRSA infection has been tied to just living in a region with industrial pig production, whether or not people have direct contact with livestock.

These findings may not just be limited to Europe though, where their factory farms pale in comparison to what we have here in the States. But we didn’t know for sure, until now. Proximity to swine manure application to crop fields and livestock operations each was associated with MRSA and skin and soft-tissue infections in people here in the U.S. These findings contribute to the growing concern about the potential public health impacts of high-density livestock production.

Achievements in modern medicine, such as surgery and the treatment of preterm babies, which we today take for granted, would not be possible without access to effective treatment for bacterial infections. Within just a few years, we might be faced with dire setbacks, unless real and unprecedented global coordinated actions are immediately taken to protect these wonder drugs. So the use of antibiotics just to promote the growth of farm animals to slaughter weights should be banned worldwide as has happened in the EU. Europe stopped feeding pigs and chickens tetracycline and penicillin to promote growth about 40 years ago, something we continue to do to this day.

The Pew Commission recently published a 5-year update on their landmark blue-ribbon commission report on current agricultural practices that found “the present system of producing food animals in the United States presents an unacceptable level of risk to public health.” Their #1 recommendation was to ban the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics, but agriculture lobbies are not going to give up the use of antibiotics without a fight.

In December 2013, the FDA released a guide for industry, their voluntary guidance for industry. They recommend antibiotics no long be used to just fatten animals for slaughter but emphasize that they are just that, toothless, non-legally enforceable suggestions. This voluntary approach has come under withering criticism from the public health and medical communities concerned about the increase in antibiotic-resistant bacterial pathogens.

The USDA is considering even going backwards, eliminating the requirement to even test for Staph aureus at all in the federal school lunch Program. They understand that school-aged children are considered a ‘‘sensitive population,’’ hence, more stringent requirements, including sampling and testing, may be considered to help assure safety and public confidence. However, the cost of such programs must be weighed against the cost of buying the food needed to support the program.

As one University of Iowa epidemiologist said, “although human health should take priority over farm animals, farmers will be reluctant to change until researchers can come up with safe and cost-effective practices to replace the use of antibiotics.” How much are antibiotics really saving the industry? The net bottomline benefit from the use of antibiotic feed additives may only be about $0.25 per animal, which means eliminating the risky practice of feeding antibiotics by the ton to farm animals would raise the price of meat less than a penny per pound.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Bunshee via Flickr.

When farm animals are fed antibiotics, they can develop antibiotic-resistant bacteria in their guts and then the gut bacteria becomes manure on meat, which can spread to humans–even vegetarian humans, since drug resistant bacteria in the animal feces can also spread to people through crops or the environment. The exhaust fans can blow MRSA superbugs straight out into the surrounding area from pig operations, or poultry operations. You can find MRSA floating around outside these sheds containing thousands of turkeys or chickens. This may explain why in Europe, human MRSA infection has been tied to just living in a region with industrial pig production, whether or not people have direct contact with livestock.

These findings may not just be limited to Europe though, where their factory farms pale in comparison to what we have here in the States. But we didn’t know for sure, until now. Proximity to swine manure application to crop fields and livestock operations each was associated with MRSA and skin and soft-tissue infections in people here in the U.S. These findings contribute to the growing concern about the potential public health impacts of high-density livestock production.

Achievements in modern medicine, such as surgery and the treatment of preterm babies, which we today take for granted, would not be possible without access to effective treatment for bacterial infections. Within just a few years, we might be faced with dire setbacks, unless real and unprecedented global coordinated actions are immediately taken to protect these wonder drugs. So the use of antibiotics just to promote the growth of farm animals to slaughter weights should be banned worldwide as has happened in the EU. Europe stopped feeding pigs and chickens tetracycline and penicillin to promote growth about 40 years ago, something we continue to do to this day.

The Pew Commission recently published a 5-year update on their landmark blue-ribbon commission report on current agricultural practices that found “the present system of producing food animals in the United States presents an unacceptable level of risk to public health.” Their #1 recommendation was to ban the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics, but agriculture lobbies are not going to give up the use of antibiotics without a fight.

In December 2013, the FDA released a guide for industry, their voluntary guidance for industry. They recommend antibiotics no long be used to just fatten animals for slaughter but emphasize that they are just that, toothless, non-legally enforceable suggestions. This voluntary approach has come under withering criticism from the public health and medical communities concerned about the increase in antibiotic-resistant bacterial pathogens.

The USDA is considering even going backwards, eliminating the requirement to even test for Staph aureus at all in the federal school lunch Program. They understand that school-aged children are considered a ‘‘sensitive population,’’ hence, more stringent requirements, including sampling and testing, may be considered to help assure safety and public confidence. However, the cost of such programs must be weighed against the cost of buying the food needed to support the program.

As one University of Iowa epidemiologist said, “although human health should take priority over farm animals, farmers will be reluctant to change until researchers can come up with safe and cost-effective practices to replace the use of antibiotics.” How much are antibiotics really saving the industry? The net bottomline benefit from the use of antibiotic feed additives may only be about $0.25 per animal, which means eliminating the risky practice of feeding antibiotics by the ton to farm animals would raise the price of meat less than a penny per pound.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Bunshee via Flickr.

Doctor's Note

Note Purdue, our third largest poultry producer, recently stopped much of their antibiotic usage due to consumer pressure—a good sign!

For those not familiar with MRSA, please see my past videos on the topic:

For more on antibiotic use on the farm, see:

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

29 responses to “Antibiotics: Agribusinesses’ Pound of Flesh

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  1. Voluntarily aligning ?

    FDA gimme a break.

    It’s like to ask to a serial killer to stop killing innocents and then leave him alone.

    Sorry for the comparison, but i think that the situation is awful.




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    1. There’s no need for you to apologise. I think you’re absolutely right.. I thought the same thing !

      The FDA is full of people from industry anyway.. I’m absolutely not surprised. Why though ?




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  2. And my patients sometimes wonder why I get so down on Corporate Agribusiness. Duh!!!!!!!!!!!

    Every time is see expose’s like this I feel appalled with the majority of our government and their lack of moral and ethical fortitude regarding our health, nutrition and food supply. I’m glad Dr. Greger and Dr. Barnard with PCRM are educating the public and fighting the Good ‘Ol Boy club in DC.

    It really is ridiculous for me to think that corporations sit around and think, “Let’s keep producing as much food as we can even if it is at the expense of our consumers who are consuming it.”

    There’s no long term goal, because if there was the corporations would see that if their food is making people fat, sick and dead, then eventually they will have no more consumers. They are sabotaging and defeating themselves in the end. Non-sustainable business is a good way for any company to become defunct! That’s Business 101.

    What is it going to take to get many in our country to “wake up” and realize what we are doing to ourselves? Ebola worked! Is that what we need, a major bacterial and/or viral disaster created from our food supply to cause change?




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      1. Neither of those bacteria I would consider a major disaster; however, depending on your definition that subject is open for debate. They definitely do not appear to be beneficial.

        Both those “bugs” are of concern but to begin with C. difficile is from normal human gut flora, and humans taking antibiotics created the disease, it’s not from animal origin. Brief History of Clostridium difficile.

        And MRSA (which has been genetically linked to cattle from over 40 years ago) was apparently caused by humans taking antibiotics to fight the Staph. aureus infection from cows, which resulted in antibiotic resistant Staph aureus (eg. MRSA-methicillin resistant Staph. aureus). Human MRSA strain Origin. And also neither of these bacterially created diseases appears to be related to our food supply, we created them by the use of antibiotics on ourselves.

        I’m talking about a “major” catastrophe like the Flu Pandemic of 1918. Current world wide farming practices are creating a real potential for another pandemic and hopefully we change our ways before this happens. Unfortunately greed appears to be the motivating factor with these corporations and there is nothing rational about that line of thinking.




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  3. Daunting information, but sloppy production: Dr. Greger says less than a penny while the value on screen is more than a nickel; the big poultry producer is Perdue, not Purdue.




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    1. I think it’s actually an error in the paper, and Greger is right. With savings of 25 cents per animals that weigh hundreds of pounds, I can’t see how 25 cents per animal would equate to 5 cents per pound of meat, unless these animals weigh close to four pounds… 25 cents divided by 480 pounds of meat (now we’re talking) equates to .052 cents, or $0.005. I think that is what they meant to write. Whoever did write it made an error. Why would you put a dollar sign in front of the number and then write cents after it? Dollar-cents?




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      1. 0.052 cents would actually be $0.0005. Less than 1/10th of a cent per pound. How the heck did the “dollar-cents” make it past peer-review anyway?




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  4. The Way of All Flesh: Undercover in an industrial slaughterhouse by Ted Conover, is an article he wrote for Harper’s Magazine, May, 2013 issue (pay wall), where he describes what he encountered being a newbie USDA meat inspector. I do remember one particular section of his article where he was placed on the liver line. His job was to inspect the livers for cancerous lesions. He said he kept seeing an inordinate number of bad livers that he had to keep rejecting. He asked the line veterinarian why these livers were so diseased. She said it was because the feed ration fed to the cattle in the feed lots had too much antibiotic, and therefore caused the diseased livers. She said they were always adjusting the levels of antibiotics in the feed to maximized weight gain, but lesson making the animals sick.

    So, here we have a situation where a government agency allegedly tasked with the job of protecting the nation’s food supply, yet, clearly is not doing so. The FDA (as well as the USDA) is effectively there to help maximize the profits of US corporations, not to protect the populace. They are complicit in destroying, what once was an effective tool for modern medicine. We are now at the point which was projected a number of years ago, whereby modern medicine’s foundational tool, antibiotics, is fast approaching (if not there already) worthlessness.

    Here is an audio interview with Ted Conover on the The Leonard Lopate Show: http://www.wnyc.org/story/289316-ted-conover-goes-undercover-meat-inspector/




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    1. After listening to the audio interview I referenced, Ted claimed that according to Eli Lilly, the maker of the antibiotics used, the antibiotics were used to help prevent the abscesses in the livers, not the cause of it.




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  5. It’s great to point out broken organizations. Who specifically can we hold accountable for this? Who’s really in charge? Surely this will comparable to a crime against humanity at some point.




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    1. A crime indeed, against animals (human and non) everywhere. No need to hold anyone accountable, or should I say so way to hold anyone accountable. The very perpetrators of these crimes are the same ones who should be holding the guilty accountable.

      When we stop eating the products of greed, disease, misery and despair, and remove ourselves from perpetuating the problems that are animal agribusiness, we are indeed forcing the system to change – or maybe better yet, creating a new system all together. The dollars you spend are the only votes that count.




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  6. I live in France. The French consume huge amounts of antibiotics even while the government warns against antibiotics misuse. The interesting facts are that two thirds of all antibiotic production in France is for the meat producers here.




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  7. Livestock production and consumption is a lose lose situation – either you die slowly (cancer, cardiovascular disease, inflammation) or you die quickly (resistant bacteria) – in the end we become extinct because of ignorance….




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    1. Not so much as ignorance but lack of positive action to correct this unhealthy disgusting way of corporate greed st the expense of the American consumer. And lack of compassion for human life.




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  8. Just wait . . . with Republicans just winning so many governorships and Senate & House seats, we’ll be seeing major undoing of the already weak guidelines around antibiotics in animal feed. These so-called legislators are bought and paid for by Big Pharm, the Cattlemen’s Association, etc.




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  9. Doctor, I would like to ask a question regarding Preworkout and Postworkout supplements. Lately I have found myself spending too much money on workout supplements (excluding protein and creatine) and it has start to become a concern to me the money I spend and if these supplements work or if everyone on the web is just posting good reviews (being paid to post them or posts are by employees). Do preworkouts containing bcaa’s, beta alanine, arginine and other ammino acids and stuff really help you during your workout and to avoid catabolism afterwards? For postworkout does glutamine (as a supplement) really help? Should I just go with some guarana pill before workout and a banana and some vegan protein afterwards accompanied by 2 pills spirulina and 5g creatine?




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    1. Why not just stick with something for a week or so, then change it up and see how it affects your performance. By no means a blind-study, but if your performance isn’t changing, then you may be wasting your money (and adversely affecting your health). You should probably change only one variable at a time if you’re serious about this.




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  10. But then, without antibiotics, the farming and slaughtering practices would have to be made safer. My guess is that would cost way more than they would ever be willing to spend!




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