Saturday, December 21, 2013


If there is one thing in our food that scares me, it’s superbugs – bacteria that are resistant to most antibiotics. Hopefully, the United States has now taken an important step towards reducing this very serious threat to global health. And it’s about time.

The Safe Food Handbook (section titled “The Superbug Issue" in the chapter on Meat and Poultry) argues that the common practice of giving regular low doses of antibiotics to food animals to promote more rapid growth can lead to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. What happens is that the tougher bacteria inside the animal’s intestine learn to live with the antibiotics, multiply and take over, while the weaker bacteria succumb. In turn, this creates a health risk for people who handle or eat the meat. This practice is particularly dangerous where the antibiotics given to animals are similar to antibiotics used in human medicine to treat bacterial infections.

Of course, the practice is profitable - not just for drug companies that sell huge amounts of such antibiotics, but for the farmers.

Europe recognized the dangers of such sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics back in 2001. Yes, a dozen years ago. The United States, on the other hand, under heavy industry pressure, has resisted banning the practice. However, this month the FDA took a step in the right direction, though I would certainly not call it an actual “ban.”

It is asking (yes, “asking” not demanding) that drug makers change the labels saying how antibiotics can be used. This, together with other measures, such as getting veterinarians to issue prescriptions for animal antibiotic use, is expected to stop, or at least, reduce this dangerous practice. It seems that animal drug makers such as Zoetis and Elanco will go along. Let’s see. Giving up profits is never easy.

If these measures are indeed implemented successfully, they could well lead to higher meat and poultry prices for the consumer. Personally, I think it is worth it. Let’s just eat less meat.

To your good health,


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