So, Who is Eating All Of Our Antibiotics?

Many of us are concerned about developing antibiotic-resistant superbugs. We can be so concerned that we may delay seeing the doctor or even modify our prescription the doctor gave us.

Michael Pollan, an author who has written books and articles investigates the perils of the industrial food chain—and the benefits and pleasures of freeing ourselves from it, writes:

Most of the antibiotics sold in America today end up in animal feed, a practice that, is now generally acknowledged is leading directly to the evolution of new antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

Why are cows being fed antibiotics in their food?

Pollan explains:

Bloat is perhaps the most serious thing that can go wrong with a ruminant on corn. The fermentation in the rumen produces copious amounts of gas, which is normally expelled. By belching, during rumination. But when the diet contains too much starch and too little roughage, rumination but stops, and a layer of foamy slime forms in the rumen that can trap gas. The rumen inflates like a balloon until it presses against the animals lungs. Unless action is taken promptly to relieve pressure (usually by forcing a hose down the animals esophagus) the animal suffocates.

*You may wonder why we feed corn to cows in the first place. For an explanation, refer to Why Do We Feed Corn To Cows.

A concentrated diet of corn can also give a cow acidosis. Unlike our own highly acid stomachs, the normal pH of a rumen is neutral. Corn renders it acidic, causing a kind of bovine heartburn that in some cases can kill the animal, but usually makes him sick. Acidiotic animals go off their feed, pant an salivate excessively, paw and scratch their bellies, and eat dirt. The condition can lead to diarrhea, ulcers, bloat, rumenitis, liver disease, and a general weakening. Of the immune system that leaves the animal blue to the full panoply of feel lot diseases - premonition, coccidiosis, enterotoxemia, feedlot polio.

Cattle rarely live on feedlot diets for more than 150 days, which might be about as much as their systems can tolerate.

Some veterinarians told Pollan, "I don't know how long you could feed them this ration before you'd see problems. The diet will eventually blow out their livers and kill them."

Over time the acids eat away at the rumen wall, allowing bacteria to enter the animals bloodstream. These microbes wind up into the liver where the form abscesses and impair the livers function. Between 15 and 30 percent of feedlot cows are found at slaughtering to have abscesses livers. Dr. Mel (the staff veterinarian) told me that in some pens the figure runs as high as 70 percent.

I asked Dr. Mel what would happen if drugs like Rumensin and Tylosin were banned from cattle feed, as some public health experts advocate. "We'd have a high death rate [its currently about 3 percent, matching the industry average] and poorer performing cattle. We just couldn't feed them as hard. The whole system would have to change and slow down

Hell, if you gave them lots of grass and space, I wouldn't have a job.

For one thing, the health of these animals in extricably linked to our own by that web of relationships. The unnaturally rich diet of corn that undermines a steer's health fattens his flesh in a way that undermines the health of the humans who will eat it. The antibiotics these animals consume with their corn at this very moment are selecting, in their gut and wherever else in in the environment they end up, for new strains of resistant bacteria that will someday infect us and withstand the drugs we depend on to treat infection. We inhabit the same microbial ecosystem as the animals we eat, and whatever happens in it also happens to us.

What are you to do?

Understand that the food you eat truly will affect you. You are what you eat is more than true. Not just in the sense of protein, carbs, vitamins, and minerals, but also antibiotics as well. While we (humans) are not using most of the antibiotics, our cattle are. Because the quality of the those products and the presences or absence of antibiotics, we eat the cattle, we ultimately are getting those antibiotics in our bodies as well. Consume grass fed free range meats on a regular basis.


Steven Zahn

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