By now, most conscientious eaters know that Big Food uses tons of antibiotics to make animals gain weight with less feed thus driving antibiotic resistant bacteria and infections. Antibiotics are also used to prevent illness in the extremely crowded and unsanitary conditions of “factory farms.” What people may not realize is that Big Food has repeatedly defeated government attempts to regulate and prohibit antibiotic use, and that Big Pharma and Big Food, not the government, actually call the shots. In 2008, the egg, chicken, turkey, milk, pork and cattle industries stormed Capitol Hill over the proposal to prohibit the use of Cefzil and Keflex (important human drugs called cephalosporins), claiming they could not “farm” without the drugs. They won.
In 2014, the FDA tried regulation again, proposing a voluntary plan in which drug makers would agree to remove the use of “growth promotion and feed efficiency” on antibiotic labels and the drugs would only be used to prevent disease. Did the government really think Big Pharma and Big Meat would undercut their own profits and meat producers would comply?
Soon after the announcement, Michael Hansen, senior staff scientist at Consumers Union, told me it was likely Big Pharma would simply replace “growth production” with “disease prevention” on the labels and continue the routine antibiotic use. Cattle producers could continue to feed grain instead of grass to animals even though it produces more liver abscesses, then treating them with the antibiotic Tylosin to “prevent disease,” he told me.
So far, according to the FDA’s 2014 Summary Report on Antimicrobials Sold or Distributed for Use in Food-Producing Animals, domestic sales and distribution of livestock cephalosporins increased by 57 percent between 2009 through 2014, antibiotics like clindamycin by 150 percent and antibiotics like gentamicin by 36 percent. Thanks for nothing, FDA.