Just Say No to Antibacterial Burgers

Publication: The Washington Post

Author: Ezra Klein

09/16/2009 - When I was a kid, my mother was a bit obsessive about making sure I finished my antibiotics. Even if I was feeling better. That didn't make a lot of sense to me. You take medicine until you're not sick anymore. But when I got a bit older, she explained: If you don't kill off the bacteria, you could be left with only the strongest bits, which then multiply and mount a counterattack. That made sense. I'd watched enough slasher flicks to know that you don't turn your back just because the killer is down. You make sure he's dead.

But leaving a capsule of Zithromax behind, it seems, was the least of my problems. This column is based on a single and quite extraordinary statistic: Food animal production accounts for 70 percent – 70 percent! – of the antibiotics used in the United States. That doesn't even include the antibiotics used for animals that actually get sick. That figure is for "non-therapeutic use" such as growth promotion and disease prevention.

The heavy reliance on routine antibiotic use is a byproduct of the way we raise animals for food: packed into dim and dirty enclosures where they live amid their own filth, eat food that they haven't evolved to digest, and are pretty much stacked atop one another. Most human beings I know can hardly spend three hours on a plane without contracting a case of the sniffles.

Read the full article Just Say No to Antibacterial Burgers on the Washington Post's Web site.

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