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Antibiotics And Hormones in Factory Farmed Meat Make You Fat – and That’s Just the Least of Our Worries . . . .

Antibiotics And Hormones in Factory Farmed Meat Make You Fat – and That’s Just the Least of Our Worries . . . .

By Leslie Brueckner, Senior Attorney

It’s no news that Americans are fat. Not just a little bit fat; we’re talking obesity-style fat, the kind of fat that threatens to put you in an early grave. In fact, according to some estimates, a full one-third of all Americans are fat enough to be classified as obese. 

What is news is that this epidemic of fatness is not just attributable to gluttony, sloth, and fast food. Sure, eating french fries while couch-surfing doesn’t help. But there’s something else behind America’s big buttedness that might surprise you: as Salon magazine just reported, all the antibiotics and growth hormones routinely given to factory farmed animals to make them fat also make people fat. 

This isn’t all that surprising, when you think about it, given that human beings are mostly made of meat. It makes perfect sense that when we eat beef, chicken, and pork that has been stuffed full of growth-inducing drugs (which include antibiotics, not just hormones), we “grow” too. A lot.  

But that’s really the least of our worries when it comes to the overuse of antibiotics in factory farms. The practice is also behind one of the biggest public health threats of our time: the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” that are already killing thousands of Americans every year.

Recently, we explained that more than 80 percent of all the antibiotics sold in the United States are used for livestock production. The reason? Antibiotics make healthy animals grow faster and suppress diseases that arise due to the unsanitary and overcrowded conditions in which they are raised. (In North Carolina alone, the amount of antibiotics used to supplement animal feed has been estimated to exceed all U.S. antibiotic use in human medicine.) The inevitable result of this practice has been an increased resistance to infections in humans, which has killed 23,000 people this past year alone. The Infectious Disease Society of America (ISDA) has declared antibiotic-resistant infections to be an epidemic in the United States and called for a ban on the use of antibiotics for growth promotion, feed efficiency, and routine disease prevention purposes in food animals,

So why don’t we take IDSA’s advice and ban the use of antibiotics as “growth-promotors” in animal agriculture, as Denmark did 15 years ago (with the European Union following suit in 2006)? The reason is as simple as it is chilling: Antibiotics are an essential feature of factory farming, and factory farming is big money for two of the most powerful lobbies in this country: Big Pharma and Big Ag. If it weren’t for all those antibiotics, modern factory farms could not exist – at least not in their current form – because the overcrowding, inadequate housing, and unsanitary conditions in modern factory farms would kill off much of the inventory before  “it” could even reach the slaughterhouse.

Big Ag’s predictable response is that banning nontherapeutic antibiotic use on factory farms is a terrible idea, and that Denmark’s ban has resulted in “increased death and disease among animals” and no reduction in antibiotic resistance in humans. Not so fast, says the prestigious Pew Charitable Trust, which found that “the ban phasing out the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics for growth promotion has not caused any negative impact on food animal production in Denmark.” The World Health Organization agrees:  according its 2002 study, Danish livestock and poultry production has increased since the ban, which antibiotic resistance has declined on farms and in meat.  

Despite this evidence, Big Ag and Big Pharma are doing everything they can to protect the goose that is laying the golden egg, and so far, their efforts are paying off big time. As we have written, the FDA recently refused to place any meaningful restrictions on the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture, despite the agency’s recognition that antibiotic overuse is posing a serious threat to public health.

The FDA’s regulatory inaction means that factory farms will continue to conduct business as usual, which means more antibiotic overuse, more growth hormone abuse, and more of all the serious problems associated with factory farms: the poisoning of our air and water by toxic animal waste, the destruction of surrounding communities, the abuse of farmed animals, and the adulteration of our food supply with diseased and unsanitary meat and dairy products.

And more fat Americans.

But, fat though we may be, not all of us are taking this lying down. Americans are becoming increasingly aware of the hideous conditions inside factory farms and the enormous social costs of industrialized animal agriculture. And citizen groups and public interest advocates are mobilizing to fight abuses in this industry in the halls of justice. 

In the past year, for example, we’ve taken legal action on behalf of a local community group and the Center for Food Safety against four huge industrial dairies that are dangerously polluting the groundwater throughout Washington’s Yakima Valley.     

Our efforts are just a beginning, of course, but there is some cause for hope that we can stop the madness before it stops us.   

Photo Credit: Farm Sanctuary