The Minnesota Environmental Partnership is proud to feature the following post as part of a series of columns as part of a Student Voices Series issues. This is part of a continuing collaboration with Macalester College’s Geography Department and its students.
What comes to mind as you carve that Thanksgiving turkey? I picture hospitals.
That’s because right now 80% of all antibiotics used in the United States can be found in feeding troughs on industrial farms. That’s right; healthy animals are fed antibiotics on a regular basis, so it’s likely that there are antibiotics in that Thanksgiving bird.
To put it simply, antibiotics make livestock grow faster. Faster growth means quicker slaughter and more money for dirty concentrated animal feeding operations. That’s why multi-billion dollar corporations are feeding small doses of antibiotics to pigs, chickens and cows for breakfast.
We need to stop this overuse of antibiotics in factory farming. Consumption of unnecessary antibiotics breeds dangerous, antibiotic-resistant infections that already hospitalize 2 million and kill 23,000 people in the United States each year, according the Centers for Disease Control.
Shockingly, the Food and Drug Administration has been aware of this health crisis since the 1960’s. Still, there is no federal legislation to regulate the misuse of antibiotics in our agricultural system.
My first-hand experience is what motivated me to take action against the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms. Last spring, I became the coalition coordinator for the “Healthy Farms, Healthy Families” campaign here in St. Paul. Partnering with Healthy Food Action, we helped unanimously pass a St. Paul city resolution to ban the misuse of non-therapeutic antibiotics in factory farming.
With the signing of this resolution, St. Paul officially supports the “Protection of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA) in the House and the “Preservation of Antibiotics Resistant Act (PARA) in the Senate. Both Acts include regulatory measures for the administration of non-therapeutic antibiotics on factory farms.
While this was a wholly symbolic victory for St. Paul -there are virtually no farms within city limits- they city’s participation helped antibiotics gain traction in Washington. Last September, President Obama created a national task force led by the secretaries of the Departments of Health and Human Services and Defense and Agriculture. He required that they deliver a five-year action plan by Feb. 15, 2015. He also directed the Department of Health and Human Services to propose regulations requiring hospitals to establish antibiotics stewardship programs.
However, Dr. James Johnson, a professor of medicine and infectious disease at the University of Minnesota observes gaping loopholes in the proposed regulation. “The section on agricultural [antibiotic] use in the council’s report sounds like it was written by someone from the meat industry. Really disappointing.”
The City of St. Paul played a critical role in bringing antibiotics to the forefront of the Obama Administration’s agenda. However, we will not be placated with a shoddy attempt at federal legislation that almost ignores the misuse of antibiotics in factory farms. We must continue to demand an urgent, comprehensive management system to cull the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms.
We have to change the way the system operates; not put a band-aid on the issue by developing more antibiotics or “antibiotic-stewardship programs”. Eventually, any new technological advances will once again be thwarted by our systematic overuse of antibiotics.
Antibiotic-resistance is happening now. It’s real. Doctors are helpless in the face of pan-resistant infections. And we continue buying meat without truly knowing what we are ingesting.
But you can make a difference. Contact your city councilmember and state representatives. Implore them to support the regulation of antibiotics on factory farms through PARA and PAMTA. And the next time you go to the grocery store, examine the meat labels. Look specifically for the words “Antibiotic-free” on the packaging. Vote with your dollar!