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Meat, Antibiotics And Superbugs: FDA Is (Finally) On The Case

Guest Post: As AARP's Sustainability Manager, Pam Evans has led the effort to incorporate environmentally responsible practices into AARP's internal business operations. She's passionate about educating members on the importance of responsible use of resources, and the direct connection between the declining health of the environment and the health of our, and future, generations.

We've probably all heard about 'superbugs', those drug-resistant strains of bacteria thought to be caused by the overuse of antibiotics in modern life. I was surprised to find, however, that current research shows that these highly-drug resistant bacteria are NOT primarily a result of overuse of antibiotics by humans, but by livestock. Currently, over 70% of the antibiotics in the U.S. - over 30 million pounds a year - are used in animal agriculture for non-therapeutic purposes.

After languishing in limbo for 35 years, a proposal by the FDA that would ban the use of certain antibiotics in animal feed is finally getting a hearing. A federal judge ordered the FDA to follow through on proceedings begun in 1977, but which were never actually completed.

Why does this matter to me, and you? "Livestock are commonly fed a cocktail of pro-growth hormones, antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals to help them grow faster and prevent infection in the crowded spaces where they spend their lives. Among several concerns, opponents of this practice say profligate antibiotic use can force microbes to mutate and become more dangerous. This is apparently what happened with CC398." (A strain of MRSA)

One advantage of my empty nest is that I now have the luxury, and budget, to shop for the food I want! I follow the " Dirty Dozen" and "Clean 15" lists from the Environmental Working Group when deciding the best choices for organic, pesticide-free, produce. Organic meat can be significantly more expensive, however. At a minimum, I look for 'hormone and antibiotic free' selections.

Huge challenges exist, and will continue to grow, in feeding the expanding world population. By selecting organic, hormone and antibiotic free groceries for our own tables, however, we will ensure the growers and ranchers working to bring us these healthier alternatives can continue to thrive.

Photo credit: cordery via Flickr.

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