Ever since ranchers stopped grazing their cattle, and started fattening them up more quickly with corn, they’ve had to dose them with antibiotics, since cows can’t digest corn easily and it often makes them ill. Corn feeding also produces beef with high levels of cholesterol, unlike grass-fed beef, so corn-fed beef may be one of the causes of heart disease. But the biggest problem is that ingesting so many antibiotics in our food means they no longer work for us when we need them.
Debora MacKenzie writes in New Scientist that a voluntary ban in Denmark on putting antibiotics in chicken and pigs cut the antibiotic resistance in the bacteria in the animals by over 90%, and there was no increase in the bacterial content of the meat. It also didn’t make meat production significantly more expensive. The European Union has adopted a total ban on antibiotics in animals starting in 2006, meaning they won’t be buying any more meat from us.
Marc Kaufman writes in the Washington Post that U.S. farmers don’t want to quit relying on antibiotics. Dan Murphy, of the American Meat Institute, says, “It just doesn’t make sense to us to focus so much on antibiotic growth promoters on the farm. The real hot spot for the development of antibiotic resistance is in the hospital and the doctor?s office, where antibiotics are overused and resistance is clearly growing. What might be coming from the farm is minor in comparison.”
Despite this, McDonalds has yielded to public pressure and has told its meat suppliers to reduce or stop the use of some growth promoters by the end of next year. Their new policy would prohibit the use of 24 antibiotic growth promoters but would allow low-dose antibiotics that are used to prevent disease.
Peter Braam, of the WHO’s infectious diseases unit, says, “We have believed for some time that giving animals low dosages of antibiotics throughout their lives to make them grow faster is a bad idea. Now we have solid scientific information from Denmark that producers can terminate this practice without negative effects for the animals and growers, and with good effects for the human population.” This is especially important now, when China is gearing up its livestock industry, which will soon be the largest in the world. If the antibiotics they use lead to antibiotic resistance in such a gigantic population, the results could be disastrous. The superbugs produced there could travel around the world, just like SARS did.
We need so much for the future, including new ways to eat and a new source of energy?the kind that powers UFOs?
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