July 13, 2009

Too Many Drugs, Too Much Safety

I don't know if this has legs, but I'm amazed that it was even introduced in the first place:

The Obama administration announced Monday that it would seek to ban many routine uses of antibiotics in farm animals in hopes of reducing the spread of dangerous bacteria in humans. In written testimony to the House Rules Committee, Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, principal deputy commissioner of food and drugs, said feeding antibiotics to healthy chickens, pigs and cattle — done to encourage rapid growth — should cease.

The reason: giving antibiotics to healthy animals so that they grow faster can promote antibiotic resistance. As Dr. Kellog Schwab, director of Johns Hopkins' Center for Water and Health explains it:

"This development of drug resistance scares the hell out of me. If we continue on and we lose the ability to fight these microorganisms, a robust, healthy individual has a chance of dying, where before we would be able to prevent that death." Schwab says that if he tried, he could not build a better incubator of resistant pathogens than a factory farm. He, Silbergeld, and others assert that the level of danger has yet to be widely acknowledged. Says Schwab, "It's not appreciated until it's your mother, or your son, or you trying to fight off an infection that will not go away because the last mechanism to fight it has been usurped by someone putting it into a pig or a chicken."

Next, although the article is somewhat hard to follow if you're not familiar with the broader topic of food safety, it still paints a scary picture:

Dick Peixoto planted hedges of fennel and flowering cilantro around his organic vegetable fields in the Pajaro Valley near Watsonville to harbor beneficial insects, an alternative to pesticides.

He has since ripped out such plants in the name of food safety, because his big customers demand sterile buffers around his crops. No vegetation. No water. No wildlife of any kind.

"I was driving by a field where a squirrel fed off the end of the field, and so 30 feet in we had to destroy the crop," he said. "On one field where a deer walked through, didn't eat anything, just walked through and you could see the tracks, we had to take out 30 feet on each side of the tracks and annihilate the crop."

Basically, you have food safety measures being taken, much of it done in a proprietary fashion, to address problems being created by factory farming operations, not many of the little guys who actually do things like, you know, plant other plants to protect their products from bugs, instead of bombarding it with pesticides. And many of these safety practices are, according to this article, being proposed for use on national level.

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