By Sharita Thomas, Staff Editor
North Carolina news source WRAL aired a documentary entitled “Overkill?” at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, January 26. Although Jeopardy is on during that time slot, I was compelled to watch. I watched not because of the fear-inducing graphics and soundtrack, but because of an astonishing fact that appeared within the first 10 seconds of the program: “More antibiotics are fed to livestock in North Carolina alone than are given to humans in the entire United States.”
The debate surrounding the use of routine, low-level antibiotics on livestock that becomes meat sold for human consumption is a huge issue for North Carolina, if not the nation. The animal agriculture industry yields nearly $6 billion for North Carolina alone. While some farmers tout the use of antibiotics as a preventative health practice to ensure the marketability and productivity of their farms, others recognize offering “antibiotic-free” meat as a strategy to cater to the growing numbers of consumers that prefer a more natural method to rearing livestock.
Many carnivores, not considering themselves “hippie” enough to care about the series of events bringing the cow from the farm to the plate, may not recognize that the debate is about public health. Researchers in public health have attributed the rise of communicable antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” in humans to the overuse of antibiotics in livestock, though part of the blame for this increase belongs to overprescribing antibiotics to humans.
In early January, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced its plan to restrict certain antibiotics from use for livestock in an effort to hinder superbugs. The FDA’s plan is scheduled to go into effect in April of this year. Those with competing concerns over public health and the stability of the agriculture industry have been trying to influence legislation that serves their unique interests for years. While it is ideal to be as proactive as possible in disease and epidemic prevention, we cannot overlook how antibiotic limiting policies may harm the animal agriculture industry, especially if we are not proposing affordable solutions for farmers. It is also important to note that health care providers need to step up and rethink how antibiotics are being prescribed to patients when a clear diagnosis has not been reached. Without a doubt, there is a need to responsibly address our public health concerns without substantially limiting the sustainability of the animal agriculture industry.