The Antibiotic Threat

Posted by | June 13, 2011 16:31 | Filed under: Top Stories

by Stuart Shapiro

With the Ebola outbreak in Germany, food safety is getting a few days of attention before people start ignoring it again.  Nicholas Kristof takes advantage of the situation to write about one of the biggest threats to public health, the use of antibiotics in farms on healthy animals.

The Food and Drug Administration reported recently that 80 percent of antibiotics in the United States go to livestock, not humans. And 90 percent of the livestock antibiotics are administered in their food or water, typically to healthy animals to keep them from getting sick when they are confined in squalid and crowded conditions.

The single state of North Carolina uses more antibiotics for livestock than the entire United States uses for humans.

This cavalier use of low-level antibiotics creates a perfect breeding ground for antibiotic-resistant pathogens. The upshot is that ailments can become pretty much untreatable.

The risk is monumental.  As Kristof notes, 5000 people die annually because of food-borne illnesses and growing antibiotic resistance could increase the death toll dramatically.  Big Ag has fought bans of feeding antibiotics to healthy animals.  But doing so would save more lives than almost any measure we’ve taken to fight terrorism.

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Copyright 2011 Liberaland
By: Stuart Shapiro

Stuart is a professor and the Director of the Public Policy
program at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers
University. He teaches economics and cost-benefit analysis and studies
regulation in the United States at both the federal and state levels.
Prior to coming to Rutgers, Stuart worked for five years at the Office
of Management and Budget in Washington under Presidents Clinton and
George W. Bush.

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