Thursday, April 22, 2010

Antibiotics in Food and Other Meaty Issues

By Jon Lindenauer

(a letter to the editor in response to "Antiobiotics in food a growing concern" in The Chicago Tribune)

Attacking the issue of antibiotics being used on animals in the food industry is almost a waste of time, not because it is not an important issue (it is an extremely important issue), but because it is funneling all of the relevant focus into a fraction of a massive problem. It is like putting a bandage on a bullet wound, so to speak. There are so many serious concerns regarding animal cultivation that have been pulled apart into separate discussions and targets that their connection to each other is almost impossible to remember or understand.

To draw some parallels, the antibiotics issue may be grouped in the same category as the “bovine growth hormone” issue. The same way people fear the biological effects of antibiotics in animal production for fear of later resistance to antibiotics when they are needed to ward off infection or disease, there the related concern of the biological effects of “bovine growth hormone” can trigger undesirable chemical responses within consumers of meat products. Despite being approved by the Food and Drug Administration as safe for human consumption, there is a prevalent concern over the notion that consuming the substance – also known as BST (bovine somatotropin) – may lead to an increased risk of certain types of cancer and the early onset of puberty. But examining the issue from a business perspective, the fact that without the use of the controversial growth hormone the food industry would face major difficulties in meeting food production quotas null-and-voids the debate: even without approval, the industry has come to rely on the chemical and if it is banned a loophole would be in order.

Moving back to the original issue – as noted in the article – the only reason antibiotics are necessary in animal food production is because of disgustingly low sanitation standards. These have led to a disturbing array of viral outbreaks and court cases, and rather than fixing the obvious problem the animal production industry has sought to “solve the problem without solving the problem.” But in an industry that thrives on quick fixes to mini-crises attributed to an enormous overarching mess, the big picture will never materialize in the public eye.

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