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When superbugs live in livestock…be afraid. (This is the part where Jenn Has A Rant)

Articles like this one from MSNBC freak me out. A lot:

Drug Resistant Infections Lurk in Meat We Eat

I’ve commented before about my concern with our food supply–in fact, it’s one of the few “to green or not to green” areas of my life and my family’s that I feel like I can have a little control over.  We are fortunate enough to have a Whole Foods a few blocks from our house (do I bike there? um…no. I mean, it’s winter now, but in spring I really need to get on that…), we have a produce stand even closer, I can find a farmers market pretty much any day of the week from April to November.  We have access to the good food.  And with a little belt-tightening in other places, we can afford it.  I still believe that the most crucial part of enacting across-the-board change will be the consumers demanding safer, healthier, and better food–that was the whole point of Food, Inc, or at least the major one they stressed at the very end–so that the producers of food need to either come with us or go out of business.  And in the meantime I have the luxury of keeping most of the scariest stuff out of my children’s systems.

But this?

Most of the article will not contain new info to people who are aware of the issue–long story short, industrial livestock is fed routine antibiotics to a) fight off the infections they would almost certainly get due to the unsanitary living conditions and questionable diets and b) stimulate their growth.  And the wide indiscriminate use of antibiotics is giving rise to pathogens that are resistant to the drugs, which then spread to people, who then can’t be cured of their infections by the drugs that used to work.

(Indiscriminate use of antibiotics for humans ticks me off too–when a kid gets the faintest sniffles and the docs throw antibiotics at it, when my adult friends get a head cold and say, “but the doctor got me some antibiotics, so I’m sure I’ll be better soon,” when just-in-case antibiotics are prescribed for bugs that they aren’t designed to affect at all…people got mad at me for not vaccinating my kids against H1N1, wailing “herd immunity! herd immunity!”–but those same people roll their eyes when I cry, “my kids will get the drug-resistant bugs your kids incubated!” Funny how that works.  Or not.)

But there are a couple of quotes in there–it’s a fairly balanced article, presenting the points of view of both sides of the issue–that scare the hell out of me and sort of point out for me exactly what is wrong with the status quo:

Here’s one:

A pig farmer says that the public doesn’t “care about economics because, ‘As long as I can buy a pork chop for a buck 69 a pound, I really don’t care.’ But we live in a world where you have to consider economics in the decision-making process of what we do.”

Basically, it sounds like he’s saying that it’s all about cost, and that economic concerns in the short term outweigh health concerns in the long term–because even economically, as time goes buy, we’re all going to be paying for that cheap pork chop; maybe not this particular farmer, but someone will be paying for it, and it will cost a lot more in health care and lives. (But fortunately we have good, universally accessible, comprehensive health care coverage in the U.S., so we don’t need to worry so much, right? Er….right?)

And another:

“[Kansas Republican Congressman Jerry Moran says]“The cultivation of crops and the production of food animals is an immensely complex endeavor involving a vast range of processes. We raise a multitude of crops and livestock in numerous regions, using various production methods. Imagine if the government is allowed to dictate how all of that is done.”

Bigly misguided here.  You’ll notice the conversation seems to be only about “government” vs. livestock/drug producers.  Where are the American people in the conversation? Ineffectual as they are, the FDA and USDA seem to at least nominally be on the side of keeping people safer. Rewrite that quote to say, “Imagine if the American people were allowed to dictate how all that is done.” or “Imagine if people living in urban deserts in the inner city were allowed to dictate how the only food to which they have access is produced” or “Imagine if the government could force us to actually disclose everything we do to their food to the American people”–because honestly that’s a lot of what FDA enforcement is about, it’s about transparency and making sure people have access to real information about where their food comes from; much of the livestock/drug lobby work is as much about preventing forced disclosure of what they already do, not necessarily about changing what they do.  Because they know if people did know how our food is actually produced, the consumers themselves would demand change.  These companies aren’t afraid of the government, but they are terrified of the American Consumer.

And it’s not just about “economics,” it’s about short-sightedness, it’s about the inability to think a few moves ahead and possibly delay the windfall in order to get a better result that might take a little longer.  Makes me angry.

But I love the end of the article, which started with a story of a pig farmer who got a really nasty strep strain and almost died:

******(begin quote)******

‘We were just basically killing ourselves’
Back in Missouri, farmer Kremer finally found an antibiotic that worked on his leg. After being released from the hospital, Kremer tested his pigs. The results showed they were resistant to all the same drugs he was.

Kremer tossed his hypodermic needles, sacked his buckets of antibiotic-laced feed, slaughtered his herd and started anew.

“I was wearing a syringe, like a holster, like a gun, because my pigs were all sick,” he recalled. “I was really getting so sick and aggravated at what I was doing. I said, ‘This isn’t working.'”

Today, when Kremer steps out of his dusty and dented pickup truck and walks toward the open-air barn in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains, the animals come running. They snort and root at his knee-high gum boots. There are no gates corralling the 180 pigs in this barn. He points to a mound of composting manure.

“There’s no antibiotics in there,” he says proudly.

Kremer sells about 1,200 pigs annually. And a year after “kicking the habit,” he says he saved about $16,000 in vet bills, vaccinations and antibiotics.

“I don’t know why it took me that long to wake up to the fact that what we were doing, it was not the right thing to do and that there were alternatives,” says Kremer, stooping to scratch a pig behind the ear. “We were just basically killing ourselves and society by doing this.”

******(end quote)******

(I especially like the “saved $16,000 in vet bills” part…)

Get involved.  Pay attention.  Vote with your wallet.

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