Fixing the Food System to Fight Superbugs



Antibiotics are a vital tool of modern medicine: they allow us to fight bacterial infections like pneumonia, tuberculosis, and strep throat. But in recent years, the bacteria causing these illnesses are adapting to the medicine used to treat them, making it impossible to beat some diseases.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are struggling to adapt to drug-resistant germs like CRE and MRSA, a strain that kills more people annually than HIV/AIDS. People undergoing long-term hospital care are especially at risk, prompting healthcare workers to take extra precautions not to spread bacteria to patients.

Why are bacteria resisting drugs faster than we can modify them? One major culprit, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is the overuse of antibiotics on factory farms.

While humans take antibiotics only when they are sick, livestock in the US are given antibiotics throughout their lives to make them grow faster and bigger, and because the conditions they are commonly raised in are havens for bacteria. Over 80% of the antibiotics used in the US are used in animal feed, mostly for animals that aren’t sick.

Faced with the ubiquitous presence of antibiotics in our environment, bacteria are learning to adapt, becoming what some call “superbugs”. Doctors can no longer treat many illnesses, especially foodborne pathogens that used to quickly subside with medicine. Drug-resistant infections are estimated to cost Americans up to $26 billion per year in additional healthcare costs, according to the NRDC.



What are health professionals and advocates doing to fight the proliferation of drug-resistant bacteria?

The World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control, the American Medical Association, and the Obama Administration have all called on livestock producers to stop using drugs on animals that aren’t sick.

Without federal policy, these declarations don’t have teeth. That’s why some members of Congress introduced bills that would enforce those recommendations. The Preventing Antibiotic Resistance Act (PARA) and the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA) are two bills supported by EarthShare members like the Union of Concerned Scientists and Food & Water Watch.

“Unless we act to preserve the antibiotics we have, the age of the miracle antibiotics may be coming to an end,” said Margaret Mellon of the Union of Concerned Scientists at a Congressional testimony on PAMTA in 2009.

Unless a bill like PAMTA or PARA passes, the burden is on consumers to take precautions against superbugs.

When you shop for food, be sure to choose meat that is certified under one of the following labels: USDA Organic, American Grassfed, Animal Welfare Approved or Certified Humane. Additionally, be sure to prepare your food properly to prevent the spread of bacteria. NRDC’s Green Healthy Grilling Guide has great tips.


Learn more:

Prescription for Trouble, Union of Concerned Scientists

Saving Antibiotics, Natural Resources Defense Council

Factory Farms: Antibiotics, Food & Water Watch



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Sedaya Boroda

It going to be real problem, but i hope health professionals will find the answer.

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