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Hi, I'm Malcolm Woods

I’m the New Media Editor at Outpost, though I’m the old media editor, as well. In both capacities, I read, hear, photograph and write about food. I also eat food pretty regularly, all of which means I spend a lot of time thinking about food in...
Malcolm Woods

Farming for superbugs

Food, Love and Policy By Malcolm Woods on December 28, 2010

We're very reluctant to resort to antibiotics in our family. As editor of the Exchange, I had for years heard about the dangers of overuse of antibiotics. Medical researchers warned that by over-relying on antibiotics, we were inadvertently creating drug-resistant superbugs. 


So, we avoided, as much as possible. We even rejected antibiotic soaps on the same grounds. Good for us, I guess, but even if every household in the country followed suit, it wouldn't make much of a dent in the problem. That's because conventional livestock producers have always been rumored to use a LOT of antibiotics. What we've only recently learned is just how huge their addiction is.


In mid-December, the FDA released official figures documenting the usage of antibiotics on farms in this country - and the figures are staggering. In 2009, 28.8 million pounds were sold for use on farm animals. By comparison, human use accounted for a total of just 7.2 million pounds.


A quick math check shows that nearly 80% of the antibiotics used in the US in 2008 went to farm animals. What's far worse, most of it wasn't intended to treat a particular infection but to help facilitate faster growth in farm animals.


The  antibiotic most used on farms is tetracycline. More than 10 million pounds of it went to the farm in 2009, in spite of concerns that overuse of tetracycline is driving antibiotic resistant bugs like MSRA.


A law changed in 2008 requires the new reporting on agricultural antibiotic use by the FDA but it doesn't call for a reduction in use or any other changes, but advocates for reduced antibiotic use hope that the data drives more people to call for action.


At the very least, I think, it ought to send more consumers looking for organic alternatives.


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