Bacteria 1, FDA 0
Mark Bittman points out in the NY Times how we’re not getting our money’s worth from the FDA:
Earlier this month, the Maine-based grocery chain Hannaford issued a ground beef recall after at least 14 people were infected with an antibiotic-resistant strain of salmonella. Chances are this is the first you’ve heard of it. After all, it’s not much compared to the 76 illnesses and one death back in August that led Cargill to recall almost 36 million pounds of ground turkey products potentially contaminated with drug-resistant salmonella. The particulars get confusing, but the trend is unmistakable: our meat supply is frequently contaminated with bacteria that can’t readily be treated by antibiotics.
A study earlier this year by a nonprofit research center in Phoenix analyzed 80 brands of beef, pork, chicken and turkey from five cities and found that 47 percent contained staphylococcus aureus, a bacteria that can cause anything from minor skin infections to pneumonia and sepsis, more technically called systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS), and commonly known as blood poisoning — but no matter what you call it, plenty scary. Of those bacteria, 52 percent were resistant to at least three classes of antibiotics. So when you go to the supermarket to buy one of these brands of pre-ground meat products, there’s a roughly 25 percent chance you’ll consume a potentially fatal bacteria that doesn’t respond to commonly prescribed drugs.
It’s not like this is happening without a reason; the little germs have plenty of practice fighting the drugs designed to kill them in the industrially raised animals to which antibiotics are routinely fed. And although it’s economical for producers to drug animals prophylactically, there are many strong arguments against the use of those drugs, including their declining efficacy in humans.
Probably you’d agree with the couple of people I described this situation to earlier this week, one of whom said something like, “Ugh, that’s crazy,” and the other simply, “They gotta do something about that!”
The thing is, “they” did. In 1977.
That’s when the Food and Drug Administration, aware of the health risks of administering antibiotics to healthy farm animals, proposed to withdraw its prior approval of putting penicillin and tetracycline in animal feed. Per their procedure, the F.D.A. then issued two “notices of opportunity for a hearing,” which were put on hold by Congress until further research could be conducted. On hold is exactly where the F.D.A.’s requests have been since your dad had sideburns.
Until last week, when the agency decided to withdraw them.
Not because the situation has gotten better, that’s for sure; the agency is well aware that it’s only gotten worse. A staggering 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in the U.S. are given to farm animals, mostly, as I said, prophylactically: the low-dose drugs help the animals fatten quickly and presumably help ward off diseases caused by squalid living conditions. The animals become perfect breeding grounds for bacteria to gain resistance to the drugs, and our inadequate testing procedures allow them to make their way into stores and our guts.
The F.D.A. knows all about this; in 2010 . . .
Continue reading. The details are what count. His conclusion:
Here’s the nut: The F.D.A. has no money to spare, but the corporations that control the food industry have all they need, along with the political power it buys. That’s why we can say this without equivocation: public health, the quality of our food, and animal welfare are all sacrificed to the profits that can be made by raising animals in factories. Plying “healthy” farm animals (the quotation marks because how healthy, after all, can battery chickens be?) with antibiotics — a practice the EU banned in 2006 — is as much a part of the American food system as childhood obesity and commodity corn. Animals move from farm to refrigerator case in record time; banning prophylactic drugs would slow this process down, and with it the meat industry’s rate of profit. Lawmakers beholden to corporate money are not about to let that happen, at least not without a fight.