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CBS Highlights Agribusiness' Abuse of Antibiotics

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Agribusiness' overuse of antibiotics in animal feed is yet another way that factory farms threaten human health, reports Katie Couric of CBS Evening News.

In a two-part series aired last week, Couric investigates how antibiotics designed to fight bacterial pathogens in sick animals and people are routinely fed to all animals, every day on modern farms. These drugs are placed in the animals' feed to increase growth rates and ward off the diseases that can become rampant in the crowded, unhygienic and unnatural conditions the animals are forced to endure.

As this series highlighted, the agriculture industry's abuse of antibiotics represents a major threat to public health. In part one of this series, Couric investigates a chicken hatchery, Pilgrim's Pride, where several workers developed life-threatening infections from MRSA, a drug-resistant bacterium that can cause blood poisoning, cellulitis, heart valve infections, pneumonia or even organ failure in humans. As Couric points out, this was no isolated incident: a University of Iowa study conducted last year found a new strain of MRSA present in nearly three-quarters of hogs and in nearly two-thirds of workers at farms throughout Iowa and Western Illinois. Unsurprisingly, these farms had been regularly churning antibiotics through their animal feed.

Formerly life-saving drugs are rendered useless against drug-resistant bacteria that threaten farm workers, as well as consumers. Virulent strains of deadly E. coli, salmonella and other pathogens are spread through meat or poultry; they are also transmitted through air or liquid runoff from factory farms. Scientists now worry that Americans may be acquiring MRSA by merely handling meat from animals who were given antibiotics.

Drug-resistant infections killed more than 70,000 Americans last year alone, and if agribusiness continues to confine animals in cruel and unnatural systems where they are deprived of exercise, given substandard food, and indiscriminately fed tons and tons of antibiotics, this number could escalate. As Thomas Cummins, the Chief Medical Officer for Batesville, Arkansas, points out, if factory farmers don't change we could end up with an organism that's resistant to everything -- "and we'll be left powerless."

I am grateful for CBS taking the time to inform Americans about yet another way in which factory farms continue to threaten human and animal health. If you wish to learn more about agribusiness' abuse of antibiotics, be sure to watch the two-part series.

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