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The conversation

Forget the lame FDA: Go meatless

April 13, 2012|By Alexandra Le Tellier
  • The Food and Drug Administration called on drug companies Wednesday to help limit the use of antibiotics in farm animals, a decades-old practice that scientists say has contributed to a surge in dangerous, drug-resistant bacteria.
The Food and Drug Administration called on drug companies Wednesday to… (William Thomas Cain / Getty…)

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s proposal for voluntary guidelines that would wean livestock off  growth-inducing antibiotics left foodies and public health officials disappointed this week. “Nonbinding recommendations are not a strong enough antidote to the problem,” argued Rep. Louis Slaughter (D-N.Y.). Avinash Kar, public health staff attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, replied to the news with a statement equivalent to an eye roll: “We've essentially had a voluntary measure in place for 35 years since FDA first acknowledged the risks of using antibiotics in livestock feed, and we have seen the use of antibiotics grow exponentially in that period.” Food Politics’ Marion Nestle was also frustrated: “I’m guessing this is the best the FDA can do in an election year,” she lamented, saying the proposal looked more like a “direct challenge to drug companies and meat producers to clean up their acts” than a real solution.

But an actual solution isn’t as simple as an outright ban on these antibiotics.

There’s the argument that antibiotics keep livestock healthy. Not that Mother Jones’ Tom Philpott buys that as an excuse to continue feeding pills to animals that then make us, the consumer, immune to antibiotics. “By preserving ‘disease prevention’ as a legit use, the FDA allows the industry to keep on throwing pharmaceuticals at -- instead of forcing it to clean up -- filthy and cramped conditions that allow bacterial pathogens to thrive on factory farms,” he writes.

And then there are the concerns about cost and time:  “[T]hey say banning them altogether would be an expensive and time-consuming undertaking that could take ‘decades of effort, and millions and millions of dollars of resources,’ ”  writes BlissTree’s Deborah Dunham. “There’s that economy over health issue again. Let’s not try to really make our food healthier for people because that would require too much effort.” The Times' editorial board weighed in as well: “The FDA contends, with justification, that guidelines would work faster than a ban, which would almost certainly be greeted with multiple lawsuits -- potentially one for every drug affected. But moving faster isn't necessarily moving better.”

There is, of course, another course of action we could all take, one that would surely send a message to Big Ag: Stop consuming meat. It’s laced with antibiotics. The culture of industrialized slaughter takes a toll on mankind. And sustainable meat is a myth.

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Follow Alexandra Le Tellier on Twitter: @alexletellier

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