Milken Institute School of Public Health
Gillings School of Global Public Health
As the natural food movement has taken off globally, so has awareness regarding what Americans put into their mouths on a daily basis, and the verdict on additives, including hormones and antibiotics is in. The United States Food and Drug Administration brought to life a voluntary program in December which urges pharmaceutical companies to reduce the level of antibiotics being used in livestock. The antibiotics in question are those labeled as being medically important for the health of human beings. The reason behind this change is to better control the way that immune systems will react to prescription drugs in the future. As your body becomes more and more used to the antibiotics on a daily basis through the meat that you ingest, it’s less likely to fight off bacterial infections as the bacteria have been able to develop resistance to the antibiotics. This is avoided by drastically reducing the antibiotics ingested by livestock so that drugs given to you by your doctor will be able work on infections in the future.
How It Works
The way that this new agreement works is that pharmaceutical companies will still sell to farmers to protect animals from disease, but will cut back on drugs being utilized for unnecessary preventative reasons in an effort to stop the desensitization of the human body to medications. This new change may also affect the way that farmers get their antibiotics, and force them to obtain an official medical opinion or prescription in order to purchase drugs for their animals. CBS news writes:
“Under the new FDA guidelines, the agency recommends antibiotics be used “judiciously,” or only when necessary to keep animals healthy. The agency also wants to require a veterinarian to prescribe the drugs. Currently livestock antibiotics can be purchased by farmers over-the-counter.”
Although there might be some negative feedback by farmers initially, this change should actually save them money, and not have any real effect on the quality of their livestock, as all illnesses and health concerns would still be provided with antibiotics and other necessary medications. Farmers are also still able to obtain medicine for overcrowding issues, which causes more disease and unhygienic standards of living.
Pharmaceutical Companies Agree
As the FDA promoted the concept, it was uncertain as to whether or not the pharmaceutical companies of the country would agree, as this would alter a large chunk of income that they obtain each year. Fortunately, companies agreed to this voluntary change in policy and approved of the changes that will affect the way that farmers gain access to drugs in the future. Carey L. Biron of Truth Out says:
“Pharmaceutical companies have overwhelmingly agreed to new U.S. government guidelines aimed at decreasing the use of antibiotics in the raising of livestock, new data shows.”
There’s no guarantee that this will truly lower the number of antibiotics being used in much of the livestock throughout the United States as there are multiple reasons for these drugs being used in order to protect consumers and animals from getting sick, but the FDA is hopeful that this alteration in marketing techniques and different rules on buying will create a lesser need.
Reasons For Cutbacks
As mentioned above, one of the most basic and yet crucial problems facing the country in regards to the antibiotics being fed to livestock animals falls on the fact that less and less medications are effectively working on the human population of the country. As new strains of bacteria appear across the globe, the need for medication that actually works to reduce illness is integral to the health of the population. Eighty percent of the antibiotics in the United States are being fed to animals that are then being turned into meat products. David Pierson of downtoearthnw.com suggests:
“Such frequent use has come at a price: Antibiotic-resistant superbugs are on the rise. More than 2 million people in the U.S. now contract drug-resistant infections annually, resulting in 23,000 deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
Animal-based ingredients are a fundamental part of the American diet, and although many people find alternative sources for protein, there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight to animal consumption. This means that there is a serious need for further control of antibiotics being fed to these food sources, and as pharmaceutical companies agree to these changes, the path to better healthcare is in sight for the first time in a long time.
This is only the beginning of the reduction of antibiotics in food sources, or so you can hope, as many nutrition wary consumers reflect their concerns over the drugs in animals and how they can further be reduced. Although the restrictions set in place cause medically important antibiotics to be less frequently utilized, it doesn’t stop farmers from collecting medication for other purposes, and as long as there is a call for a drug from a veterinarian, there’s no real cap on what constitutes as a reason to medicate. Mary Clare Jalonick of Huffington Post reports:
“Some advocacy groups said the FDA needs to go even further to curb animal antibiotics, including limiting companies who use them for disease prevention when holding animals in crowded conditions. The current guidelines address antibiotic use for growth promotion.”
As nice as it is to think that the future brings possibilities of less crowding and better condition for animals, it’s more likely that livestock will continue being treated this way unless further laws are set in place. In the meantime antibiotics will still be used for preventative methods that may or may not even be necessary to keep the animals healthy. These treatments give farmers hope for a larger supply of usable meat, but in reality, it’s entirely possible that these drugs aren’t needed in the first place.
The society-conscious efforts put forth by pharmaceutical companies are astounding and make for a giant leap of success in the world of healthcare and nutrition, but further steps must be taken to promote a more positive future in disease prevention for human beings. Changes in laws involving the captivity of livestock, as well as alterations in the way that sales are made for prevention all need to be considered.