Wednesday, August 8, 2012


Increased emergence of bugs resistant to some of the commonly used antibiotics for treatment of serious diseases in human beings is a cause for alarm globally. While part of the problem can be attributed to the indiscriminate prescription by physicians of all hues and colors to treat any and every fever with strongest antibiotics available in the market, meat industry has to bear the major burden for such a situation because of large scale use (or mis-use?) of antibiotics in raising meat animals. It is scandalous that more than 80% of the antibiotics produced in the US goes for feeding meat animals, under the pretext that meat so produced will be safer from pathogens like Salmonella, virulent E.coli and others. However a reality check shows that antibiotics are used to improve the production economics as the animals grow faster using less and less feed inputs. The hapless consumer, in spite of his yearnings to consume antibiotic free meat products does not have ready access to such products because most of the meat produced comes from farms which liberally use antibiotics in their day to day operations. Here is a take on this vexatious issue that seems to be caught between the powerful meat lobby and aggressive consumer activists organizations.  

"Currently, there is no labeling standards for drug free meat products, but until there is, the researchers say, foods labeled "organic" are, by definition, required to be antibiotic-free. In addition, they say consumers can generally rely on labels that explicitly say "no antibiotics," but should be wary of terms like "natural," "antibiotic-free," "no antibiotic residues" and "no antibiotic growth promotants," as these terms can be misleading. But a coalition of agricultural advocacy organizations – including the American Meat Institute, the National Cattleman's Beef Association, the National Chicken Council, the National Pork Producers Council and the National Turkey Federation -  do not agree that there is a problem. "The research is clear that the contribution of using antibiotics in food-animal production to the human burden of antibiotic resistance is quite small, if it exists at all," the coalition said in a letter to Congress in June".

It is a shame that the government in the world's most powerful country, viz the US is unable to come to the rescue of its citizens through restraining policies that will discourage the meat industry from using antibiotics recklessly. Adding insult to injury, the powerful meat lobby does not concede the point that its large scale use of antibiotics is responsible for the drug resistance encountered in may pathogen infections, in spite of massive scientific evidence to the contrary! What prevents the US authorities in insisting on compulsory labeling of antibiotic treated meat is indeed baffling, the only charitable interpretation being its vulnerability to the lobbying power of the meat industry. Though consumers have an alternative in organic meats, the fact that they cost heavily compared to normal meat excludes many of them with limited income from patronizing such expensive products. Access to safe food is a fundamental human right and no government can shirk its responsibility in ensuring the same, no matter how powerful the food industry may be!    


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