Chef Tom Colicchio Shines Spotlight on Antibiotic Use in U.S. Meat Industry


By Sasha Lyutse 

Tom Colicchio is best known as a celebrity chef, but it’s his role as a good food advocate that brought him to the set of Morning Joe yesterday morning. Colicchio was there to talk about a new scorecard released last month by Food Policy Action, the first ever effort to rank members of Congress based on how they vote on food policy. As Colicchio explained, if you care about food issues, you now have a tool to hold your local politicians accountable, be it on issues related to hunger, food safety or local farming systems. In other words, we can now not only vote with our food dollars, but also with our votes.

As a big fan of accountability, I say hooray! But that’s not where the conversation ended. Asked what the biggest challenge on food safety is, Colicchio went straight to the issue of antibiotics use in the U.S. meat industry. Here’s his answer in full:

“One of the biggest problems right now is antibiotics in animals. It’s causing a major problem. I see it in hog growing regions. There’s huge outbreaks of things like MRSA, of bacterial infections we can’t control anymore. A majority of the antibiotics that are out there, that are used, aren’t in humans—it actually goes to animals. That’s one of the biggest problems.”

Asked why this is the case, Colicchio continued:

“When you take animals and you put them in confined feedlots to grow them indoors and in closed quarters, you have to pump them with antibiotics or they’ll die. So this is done in advance of infection. It’s not done once the animal is infected. It’s done in advance.”

Asked how we regulate the practice, here’s Colicchio one last time:

“It’s policy, good food policy.”

We couldn’t agree more.  

Today, 3-times more antibiotics go to chickens, pigs and cows that are not sick than to people who are, a practice that now ranks amongst the key culprits in the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria known as “superbugs.”

Drug-resistant infections are harder for doctors to treat, lead to longer illnesses, more hospital stays, and even death when treatments fail. They are also estimated to cost Americans up to $26 billion dollars per year in additional healthcare costs. Multi-drug resistant infections, such as the life-threatening disease MRSA that Colicchio referred to, are on the rise while the development of new antibiotics is coming to a standstill.

Medical groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association, public health groups such as the American Public Health Association and scientific groups such as the American Society for Microbiology all agree that such use must stop to protect public health and have sounded the alarm. Yet the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—the federal agency charged with regulating the use of antibiotics in the livestock sector—has not stopped the practice, despite knowing for more than 30 years that mixing antibiotics essential to human medicine into animal feed poses a risk to human health.

Ignoring the science and calls to action by the nation’s leading scientific and health-focused organizations? Not very good policy.

Straight to the Source: Switchboard NRDC Blog.



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