There has been a steady increase in concern with the way food is created in this country, perhaps peaking with then Presidential Candidate Obama mentioning this article by Michael Pollan (and then recanting after there was a backlash). Michelle Obama white house garden was actually proposed in that article, though most of the other advice (like an end to food subsidies) will probably be ignored. It has become undeniable and even uncontroversial that Americans don’t eat well, and that the problem stems from too much grain and grain fed meat. However, what is much less well known is the role of factory farming in MRSA, the antibiotic resistant bacteria that kills more people than AIDs every year in this country.
John Hopkins magazine has a feature about how low dosage antibiotics in factory farm feed is essentially the perfect lab for the creation of antibiotic resistant bacteria. All of the animals are dosed with small amounts of antibiotics so they will grow faster and not get sick in the miserable living conditions required to produce super cheap meat. All of their feces, millions of tons of it, is stored in pools and manure sheds where bacteria grows in an environment with trace antibiotics present. Humans who work on these farms are frequently in contact with these microbes, who then colonize humans and spread off the farms. Even worse, bacteria share genetic information in “resistance cassettes” so once a human catches a benign antibiotic resistant bacteria, they are vulnerable to any other treatable bacterial infection. So staph infections end killing more people than AIDs, when before they could be treated easily.
MRSA isn’t only caused by factory farming, it is most commonly found in hospitals where there are a plethora of antibiotics and bacteria interacting. However, this is a necessary and perhaps unavoidable consequence of having hospitals. On the other hand, feeding antibiotics to our meat so it will be cheaper is shockingly short-sighted. Imagine a world where antibiotics don’t work anymore, but you can still get a hamburger for a dollar. Does that seem like a trade worth making? There are a lot of changes needed in the way we produce our food, and a lot of them will require incremental progress, but banning antibiotics in farm feed seems pretty straightforward.