Not so long ago, the "miracle cure" of antibiotics prompted doctors to prescribe them for illnesses as minor as colds and upset tummies. But then people began to die. In droves.
Why? Overuse of antibiotics led to the rapid evolution of savvy bacteria resistant to the miracle drugs. These superbugs cannot be killed, so they swarm infected patients and kill them. It's become an epidemic — about 100,000 people a year are killed by unstoppable bacterial infections that they get in hospitals, plus many others die from superbug infections they get elsewhere.
To add absurdity to this horror, the real culprits in the overuse of antibiotics are not our doctors, but giant meat processors. In the massive factory operations of such conglomerates as Tyson Foods, millions of chickens, hogs, and cattle are routinely dosed each year with antibiotics. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that 84 percent of all antibiotics go not to us humans, but to the animals in these industrial facilities.
Why? One, because the facilities are filthy, making the animals sick. But second — and worse — the agribusiness profiteers use antibiotics simply to force the chickens, hogs, and cows to grow faster, thus reducing corporate costs. Never mind the cost in human health. This is so senseless that it makes your brain hurt.
At last, however, federal regulators are taking tentative steps to stop meat processors from using antibiotics to bulk up animals. Of course, the corporate powers are swarming Congress like — well, like bacteria, in an all-out effort to kill any reform.
In the past, the special interest money of agribusiness has been able to clobber common sense, but this time the momentum is on our side. To help give it a push, contact the Union of Concerned Scientists, ucsusa.org.
Editor's note: On July 14, the Agriculture Department, a traditional advocate for livestock producers, announced it believes there is a link between the use of antimicrobials in animal agriculture and antimicrobial resistance among humans and animals.
Jim Hightower is the best-selling author of Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow, on sale now from Wiley Publishing. For more information, visit jimhightower.com.