Antibiotic use in animal agriculture is increasingly under the microscope as the global emergency of antibiotic resistant diseases grows more severe. A recent study predicted that if bacteria continue to evolve at current rates, in just 35 years, 10 million people a year will die from currently treatable diseases.
The food safety system in the U.S. has traditionally monitored a few well-known bacteria. We look for bugs such as Listeria, Salmonella and Campylobacter because they cause millions of food-borne infections every year. Today, my colleagues and I published research suggesting that it is time to add another pathogen to the list of bad bugs in our food.
Industry representatives are talking to each other, while lobbying policymakers for the status quo. Public health organizations and non-profits working on this issue would like to bridge the gaps, but the gaps often seem unbridgeable. These silos prevent progress in combatting antibiotic resistance at a time when we desperately need action.
Antibiotic overuse merely scratches the surface of the problems posed by factory farms today. Animals are reared in large, windowless warehouses in conditions of extremely close confinement. A broad focus on improvements in animal welfare is urgent and essential. It would result in less antibiotics being needed in the first place.