Agriculture's 'Most Disgraceful' Problem: Antibiotics

Overuse of antibiotics threatens our entire food supply and our health
By Mark Russell,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 12, 2011 8:09 AM CDT
Tomatoes and cucumbers are displayed for sale at a market in Berlin, where an E. coli outbreak has killed at least 31 people and made more than 3,000 sick.   (AP Photo/Michael Sohn,File)
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(Newser) – Al-Qaeda's attacks on 9/11 killed nearly 3,000 people, completely transforming America's approach to national security. And yet food-borne illnesses kill 5,000 Americans each year and hospitalize 325,000, but there is little interest in improving food safety, writes Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times. Now, however, the E. coli outbreak in Germany that killed 31 people is putting food safety front-and-center again. But the "most disgraceful" problem "is the way antibiotics are recklessly stuffed into healthy animals to make them grow faster," writes Kristof, an "Oregon farmboy who once raised sheep, cattle, and hogs."

About 80% of antibiotics in the United States are consumed by livestock, not people. "This cavalier use of low-level antibiotics creates a perfect breeding ground for antibiotic-resistant pathogens," says Kristol, noting that such germs can easily spill over into vegetables and produce. "The upshot is that ailments can become pretty much untreatable." Some countries are banning giving antibiotics to livestock, but in the United States, industry always blocks such legislation.

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