Diane Carman of the Denver Post reports that on a blistering hot day, rancher Sue Jarrett took two carloads of city slickers on the tour de manure. They started at the sprawling Swift & Co. feedlot in Greeley, checked out a confined buffalo farming operation, peeked in on some dairies, visited one of the largest feedlots in the world in Yuma and ended up at her ranch near Wray.
She fixed them supper, and they stayed all night. She served pork roast and roast beef, a big salad, stir-fried vegetables. The best part, though, was what she didn’t serve.
Because she knew how the animals had been raised, she could say with confidence that they weren’t laced with antibiotics and they weren’t hosts for antibiotic-resistant bacteria like most of the animals raised for meat in America.
And this was one crowd that could really appreciate it.
The guests of the natural-meat activist were scientists and activists who lobby Congress and federal agencies to take action to preserve antibiotics for essential medical treatment.
And unlike most of us, they pay very close attention to what they eat.
“The No. 1 public health problem today is the evolution of antibiotic-resistant bacteria,” said Margaret Mellon, food and environment program director for the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The World Health Organization, the American Public Health Association and the National Academy of Sciences are just a few of the groups that have called for urgent action to address the problem.
Last week, they got news that the Food and Drug Administration is finally starting to pay attention. The FDA withdrew its approval of the use of a Cipro-like antibiotic in poultry feed, albeit five years after the medical community declared the situation an emergency.
Poultry producers had been feeding chickens these antibiotics since 1995. In 2000, scientists began raising concerns about the appearance of antibiotic-
resistant bacteria. In 2002, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that resistance to Cipro in Campylobacter, a potentially deadly cause of bacterial food poisoning in humans, had risen 21 percent.
The FDA was slow to withdraw its approval of the antibiotic-laced poultry feed because of pressure from the pharmaceutical company Bayer, which has made untold millions on sales to poultry farmers.
But taking the antibiotics out of poultry feed is only a first step, Mellon said.
More than 24 million pounds of antibiotics are routinely fed to livestock in this country every year, and concern for the consequences has led European countries – and many others around the world – to stop importing American beef and pork.
“The antibiotic issue just gives our competitors in the marketplace another card to play,” Jarrett said.
Denmark, the world’s largest pork producer, has proved that nontherapeutic antibiotics are unnecessary in livestock production, she said.
“If cattle and pigs are raised in a healthy environment, they don’t need antibiotics in their feed to thrive,” she said.
But short of purchasing a side of beef or a pig on the hoof from a small farmer such as Jarrett, American consumers have a hard time finding meat that isn’t host to super-germs that have evolved beyond the power of Cipro to stop them.
In this country, big corporations control the packing plants, and meat is one of the only food sectors to escape labeling requirements.
That labeling is coming, Jarrett said.
The same consumers who have made organic, hormone-free, antibiotic-free milk the fastest growing segment of the market surely would pay attention to labels on beef, pork and chicken that would include information about the powerful drugs in their feed.
Super-germs and the drugs that are spawning them are the “little ticking time bombs” of public health, Mellon said.
The FDA should act immediately to disarm them instead of just fattening the hindquarters of big agriculture and the pharmaceutical industry and treating the rest of us like, well, so much manure.