cow-mask (1)There’s a dirty little secret the meat industry would rather keep you in the dark about.   While the World Health Organization, CDC and nearly every other major public health group is calling antibiotic resistance one of the scariest health crises of our time, the vast majority of antibiotics in the US – eighty percent! – aren’t even being given to humans, they’re being fed to healthy animals raised for meat.

Can you imagine your drinking water dosed with antibiotics to make you grow faster?  Or eating these drugs in your food so you wouldn’t get sick?  It’s beyond comprehension that humans would take antibiotics this way – and yet, this is what’s happening on industrial farms to the animals being turned into our dinner.

And it’s a terrible idea!   Alexander Fleming, the man who discovered antibiotics, warned the world in 1945 (as he was receiving a Nobel Peace Prize for his revelation) that overusing these miracle drugs could prove a tragic end to their effectiveness.    Fleming would be rolling in his grave right now if he knew how his precious discovery was being squandered to pump up the meat industry’s profit margins.

When animals are packed together in cramped, unsanitary conditions – as they are in today’s industrial meat production facilities – disease can spread fast.  So the animals are given antibiotics to mask these living conditions and keep them from getting sick.  It also turns out that these drugs just happen to make the animals grow at a faster rate, too.

But the story doesn’t end there.   As the animals are given constant, low doses of antibiotics, the drugs work to kill off some of the bacteria while the strong ones – which have built up resistance to the antibiotics – survive and proliferate.  These ‘superbugs’ can make their way to us through the meat we eat, polluted soil and water, and even airborne dust.

Antibiotics should be used to treat truly sick humans and animals, period.   But antibiotics to prevent illness?  Or even worse, to make a creature grow faster?   Doctors have a hard time wrapping their heads around giving antibiotics to animals for these reasons, which is why in a recent Consumer Reports poll 93% of doctors said they’re concerned about this all-too-common meat industry practice.

So this Halloween we’re pulling the mask off the widespread, inappropriate use of antibiotics in livestock production and the scary superbugs they’re creating.    Here are a few ways you can help hold the meat industry accountable:

  • Buy meat that’s labeled ‘Raised Without Antibiotics’, ‘No Antibiotics Administered’, or a similar claim.   Organic meat is a great choice too as it’s inherently raised without antibiotics.  Most supermarkets now offer selections of no-antibiotics and/or organic meat.
  • Support retailers and restaurants that tell you where their meat comes from and designate it as raised without antibiotics.  This could be from your local butcher or farmers market, but even some national chains are doing the right thing:  Whole Foods, Panera and Chipotle all source meat raised without antibiotics.  So do some local chains – ask around and find yours.
  • Ask more companies to be leaders in the fight to save antibiotics by refusing to sell meat from suppliers that misuse these drugs.  We’re asking Trader Joe’s to make the commitment next – you can make a quick call to the company here.