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From Jordan's Desk--Livestock Druggies

Donald Kennedy serves as professor emeritus of environmental science at Standford University. Additionally, Kennedy is a former commissioner of the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so he knows something about our food supply. He also knows what aspects of it can be a threat to human health.

Kennedy writes, “More than 30 years ago, we proposed eliminating the use of penicillin and two other antibiotics to promote growth in animals raised for food. When agribusiness interests persuaded Congress not to approve that regulation, we saw firsthand how strong politics can trump wise policy and good science.”

What Kennedy is referring to is the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics—leading to drug-resistant bacteria—to prevent infection in healthy animals to make them grow faster. It’s a serious health matter, too, since the antibiotics used in the animals are generally the same kinds of antibiotics used in humans.

That means that when those livestock-produced superbugs infect humans there are not many ways to effectively eliminate them. In fact, there are approximately 90,000 people in the United States who die from hospital-acquired infections each year, and about 70% of these infections are antibiotic resistant.

Antibiotic resistance can be expensive, too. It can lead to many bacterial infections and the need to be treated in the hospital for weeks or months. Cook County Hospital in Chicago and the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics—a health policy advocacy group—say that extra costs to our healthcare system are as much as $26 billion per year for antibiotic resistance. Wow.

But does our livestock really need the antibiotics? The livestock industry says that it needs to use antibiotics to keep animals healthy—and the total number of antibiotics used in agriculture keeps growing. The Union for Concerned Scientists, however, says that 70% of the antibiotics used in agriculture are administered to healthy animals that are only at risk of infection due to their crowded, unsanitary confined environment. 

And while Kennedy may be pointing this discrepancy out, he’s not alone in the effort to stop drugging up our livestock. Others who support a ban on non-therapeutic antibiotics in agriculture include: The American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Pharmacists Association, the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the American Public Health Association and the National Association of County and City Health Officials.

Simply put, drugging our livestock is a practice that needs to stop—even if it’s over 30 years late.


This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.

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