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23,000 Americans will die this year from antibiotic-resistant
infections; 80 percent of antibiotics in the U.S. are used by the meat industry.
Can Big Ag and Big Pharma change in time to save this critical medicine for
June 06, 2014 By
Richard Conniff Richard Conniff is the author of The Species Seekers:
Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth and other books.
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One evening in June 2011, at their home in a suburb of Portland, Ore.,
Melissa Lee and her husband sat down to a dinner of spaghetti and meatballs with
their 10-month-old daughter. It was one of the first times Ruby Lee ever tasted
meat. What followed, over the next few days, was a new parent's nightmare of
fever, diarrhea, listlessness, and doctors--culminating in an urgent phone call
about blood test results: "Get Ruby to the hospital now."
Ruby's bloodstream was infected with a virulent bacterial strain, Salmonella
Heidelberg, from the ground turkey she had eaten. She was one of 136 victims in
that outbreak and among the 47.8 million cases, including 3,037 deaths, of
food-borne illnesses in the United States that year. Medical detective work and
DNA fingerprinting soon traced the outbreak back to Cargill, the privately owned
agribusiness giant based in the Midwest, which had to recall more than 35
million pounds of ground turkey.
Ruby spent seven days in the hospital on an intravenous drip line. (The needle
had to be moved from hand to foot to arm because her tiny body kept rejecting
it.) Then she spent four days at home with an antibiotic line threaded into her
heart. "The bacteria strain that she got, we didn't find out till later, was
antibiotic resistant," Melissa Lee recalled not long ago. "So the fact that the
antibiotic they gave her actually worked was a minor miracle." Four other
commonly prescribed antibiotics would have failed. "It was sheer luck that they
gave her the right one."
The problem for Ruby Lee and 2 million
others in the U.S. who contract antibiotic-resistant infections every year is
this: When antibiotics knock out unwanted bacteria, they make room for other
bacteria, which are by some quirk in their genetics protected from the effect of
the antibiotic. These survivors proliferate and eventually become so dominant
that the drug simply has no effect on the patient. It's natural selection, and
the more antibiotics are in use, the faster it happens. The result is that
important antibiotics no longer work against staph infections, urinary tract
infections, gonorrhea, tuberculosis, and a growing list of other diseases. We
thought we had conquered these ancient killers at the beginning of the
antibiotic era (which started on D-Day, 70 years ago today), but our old enemies
So after a lifetime in which a doctor could usually wipe away almost any
infection simply by applying pen to prescription pad, we now stand at the brink
of "a post-antibiotic era." That's according to an April 2014 report from the
World Health Organization, and it could mean "an end to modern medicine as we
know it," Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of WHO, recently warned..
"Things as common as strep throat or a child's scratched knee could once again
kill." In Britain, the top health official has said that antibiotic resistance
threatens to become an "apocalyptic scenario," with effects comparable to those
of a catastrophic terrorist attack.
We know some of the culprits. The astonishing power of antibiotics to conquer
disease made people so giddy at first that they proposed adding the drugs to
canned foods, or even spraying them into the atmosphere at hospitals. Patients
demanded antibiotics even when they weren't necessarily appropriate, for a baby
with an ear infection or a viral sickness. But doctors and hospitals began to
see the results of misusing antibiotics almost immediately, in the form of
resistant illnesses. With many old antibiotics no longer effective and no new
ones coming onto the market to replace them, the medical community is now
curtailing misuse of antibiotics to keep the last few lifesaving drugs effective
for at least a few more years.
One large area of antibiotic misuse has hardly changed at all, however, partly
because until recently no one knew just how astonishingly large it is: The
single largest consumer of antibiotics worldwide since shortly after World War
II isn't the medical community at all; it's the meat industry. The antibiotic
era had just begun when researchers accidentally discovered that the addition to
feed of low, or subtherapeutic, doses of antibiotics made livestock grow faster,
possibly by suppressing bacteria in the gut.
From the start, researchers knew that chronic exposure to antibiotics would
inevitably cause bacteria to become resistant. But the meat industry has argued
that this resistance remains confined to animals and does not spill over to
affect human health; the most it seems it will concede is Cargill's statement on
its website that "it is an ongoing debate about whether animal antibiotic use
can adversely affect human health." Proponents of continued livestock use also
point out that antibiotics have made it possible to keep animals healthy in
large-scale production facilities--enabling industry to provide cheap meat in
abundance for American dinner tables. Routine use of antibiotics, and the
resulting lower cost of meat, has been a significant factor in the doubling
of meat consumption in this country, from just over 90 pounds per person in 1940
to 184 in the peak year of 2004. (Incidence of heart disease, stroke, type 2
diabetes, obesity, and certain cancers has spiked over the same period; medical
science links all of these conditions to excessive meat consumption, which has
put enormous pressure on the health care system entirely apart from the effects
of antibiotic resistance itself.)
But scientific evidence about the public health risks of antibiotic use in meat
production is becoming increasingly precise. That now pits much of the health
care community and a broad coalition of political, social, and retail
organizations against the giants that dominate the meat business--among them
Cargill, Tyson Foods, ConAgra, Perdue Farms, Smithfield Foods (acquired by the
Chinese firm huanghui International in fall 2013), and JBS S.A. (the Brazilian
firm that acquired Swift + Company in 2007). Those companies account for the
lion's share of the 90-billion-plus pounds of
red meat and
poultry produced in the U.S. each year. Executives at these companies
sometimes acknowledge the need to move away from some antibiotic uses, if only
because of changing consumer attitudes on the issue. But antibiotics have made
it possible to grow more animals faster and in more crowded conditions--the
central premise of the highly concentrated modern livestock industry--so the
prospect of reducing their use has little appeal. Moreover, demands for changes
that could eat into the meat industry's bottom line come as it faces sharply
increased feed costs and annual meat consumption that's down 18 pounds per
capita since 2004. (Accounting varies, but meat producers still manage to rake
in well over $100 billion a year.)
The companies that supply the antibiotics--oetis (which spun off from Pfizer),
Eli Lilly's Elanco, and Phibro Animal Health are some of the biggest
suppliers--also have little incentive to change. Selling drugs for use in
livestock and companion animals has been one of the industry's few bright spots,
according to pharmaceutical analyst Steve Scala at Cowen and Company. It's been
a stable source of growth at a time when the human side of the business looks
flat, with drugs becoming more expensive and
But the antibiotics controversy could become a drag on that market, because
cases like Ruby Lee's are becoming disturbingly more common. Infections that
resist antibiotic treatment now kill at least 23,000
Americans every year and cost the economy as much as $35 billion annually in
added health care and lost productivity. Though doctors, hospitals, and patients
who over- and misuse antibiotics bear some of the blame, new studies are for the
first time implicating livestock antibiotics, too, and that has increased the
demand for limits.
Until recently, antibiotic use in food animals has been largely hidden from
public view. It started in 1949, when the drug company Lederle Laboratories
(which would become part of Pfizer) introduced antibiotics for routine use in
food animals. A company scientist later admitted that Lederle described the new
product at first merely as a source of vitamin B12, rather than as an
antibiotic, "to avoid any registration problems." It was another year before the
Food and Drug Administration found out that American food animals were being fed
antibiotics on a routine basis, and the FDA did not learn for another 60 years
exactly what a whopping dose of antibiotics our food animals were consuming. But
a law passed in 2008 required drug companies to report their agricultural sales
more fully, and in 2010, the FDA shocked the world when it announced that 28.7
million pounds of antibiotics--80 percent of all use in this country--were being
devoted to livestock production rather than to human health care.
Even now, drug industry executives almost never talk directly about this hefty
business of selling antibiotics to livestock producers. Several of the biggest
makers of antibiotics for livestock declined multiple requests for interviews
with executives involved in that part of company business. Zoetis emailed its
policy statement on the issue. An Elanco spokesperson acknowledged that
antibiotic resistance is a problem in both human and animal medicine, but not
that livestock antibiotics have been a factor in the developing crisis. He said
the company would comply with measures being developed by FDA "to narrow the
use" of antibiotics in food animals.
The pharmaceutical companies' reticence makes sense. Their business depends on
the goodwill of doctors and on a reputation for providing safe and effective
drugs. Yet it's becoming apparent that drug companies have for decades been
promoting and profiting from the overuse that's part of the antibiotic
resistance crisis, to the considerable peril of doctors and patients everywhere.
Hence, when journalists phone to talk about livestock antibiotics,
pharmaceutical companies generally send them on to Ron Phillips, who works two
blocks from the White House in Washington, D.C. He's a vice president for
legislative and public affairs--that is, a lobbyist--for the Animal Health
Institute, an association of animal drug manufacturers. In an interview,
Phillips argued that the industry is innocent of the charge of causing the
resistance epidemic for what can seem like logical reasons: Only about half the
antibiotics used on farms are medically important to humans, and the connection
to human health care is a lot less clear than when doctors put antibiotics
directly into human patients. Antibiotics also get added to feed in relatively
small doses--a fraction of a standard therapeutic dose. "Animal antibiotics make
our food supply safer and people healthier," the Animal Health Institute
declares on its website. Phillips cited a study suggesting that animal use of
antibiotics accounts for no more than 3.5 percent of the resistance problem.
But that study turns out to be more than a decade old, based on a questionnaire
answered by 20 people, and written by a consultant to Pfizer. That's how it
often goes with the science in support of antibiotic use in food animals. When
proponents cite "more than 12,000 studies" backing its safety and effectiveness,
they are generally referring to studies sponsored by the same drug companies
that are selling the antibiotics. These studies mostly took place in the 1950s
and seldom lasted more than a few weeks.
More recent studies indicate that it is routine for resistance to spill over
from food animals to people, in ways we are only beginning to recognize. When
the poultry industry in Quebec voluntarily (and temporarily) stopped using a
cephalosporin-type antibiotic marketed by Pfizer Canada a few years ago,
government researchers noticed that levels of resistant Salmonella and E. coli
on supermarket chicken soon dropped. So did resistant Salmonella infections in
humans. When the industry reintroduced the antibiotic, resistant bacteria
reappeared in both meat products and human consumers. A Pfizer spokesperson
commented that injecting the drug into chicken eggs before they have hatched, as
the poultry companies had been doing, is an off-label use, and Pfizer does not
sell for off-label uses. (This is a measured response considering that Pfizer in
the first decade of the 2000s settled four separate cases involving criminal and
civil charges, including once paying a fine of $2.3 billion for marketing human
drugs for off-label use. And it's estimated that 20 to 30 percent of drugs are
prescribed off-label.) An author of the study countered that Pfizer sold the
companies the vaccination machines used to administer the drug.
In another recent study, researchers shopping at supermarkets over a
two-year period found resistant E. coli on almost every chicken product and to a
lesser extent on beef and pork. Genetic analysis showed "extensive similarities"
between the resistance genes in the E. coli on food and those in human patients
suffering resistant E. coli infections, said James R. Johnson, M.D., a professor
of medicine at the University of Minnesota and an infectious disease specialist
at the Veterans Administration Health Care System in Minneapolis. Moreover, the
drugs to which the E. coli were resistant were the same antibiotics that were
being fed to livestock.
Proper cooking would of course kill these bacteria, but consumers still face a
risk as they handle the raw meat in the kitchen. Children can pick up Salmonella
and Campylobacter bacteria, Johnson said, just from riding in a supermarket cart
with meat products nearby. In most cases, that kind of contamination is
temporary: Different bugs prefer different hosts, and they pass through with no
apparent ill effects.
E. coli is different. The same strains inhabit the intestines of humans and
animals alike, and the species routinely swap them back and forth. It usually
doesn't matter much, so long as they stay in the gut. But they don't, said
Johnson, and there has been a frightening increase in the resistant infections
that occur when E. coli gets in the urinary tract, the blood, and even the
brain. Patients may go days or even weeks before doctors can find an antibiotic
that still works. One result is that a seemingly routine urinary tract infection
can now sometimes kill. Worldwide, an estimated 800,000 people die each year
from extra-intestinal infections of all kinds caused by strains of E. coli. Even
vegetarians are at risk: Over the past few years E. coli outbreaks have occurred
in sprouts, packaged salads, spinach, and cookie dough.
For those who defend agricultural use of antibiotics, such studies add up to
correlation, not causation. If the same resistance genes turn up in humans and
food animals, said Charles Hofacre, a professor at the University of Georgia,
that may just mean that overmedicated humans are infecting the food animals,
rather than the other way around.
Johnson acknowledged that patients who die "tend to be older, sicker, more
debilitated, more health care dependent, and more antibiotic exposed, all of
which predispose to having a resistant strain." Life is complicated like that,
and it means that causation is elusive, much as it was when public health
officials were trying to demonstrate the link between tobacco and cancer.
"It's going to be quite difficult to slam-dunk prove that any of these
resistance genes emerged because there was antibiotic usage in a food animal,"
But while we argue about proof, said Tyler Smith, a researcher at The Johns
Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, "we are squandering a medical miracle on
the basis of very limited evidence that it is necessary to produce animals."
Denmark and Sweden have already sharply restricted the use of antibiotics in
food animals, he noted, without "long-term negative effects on industry."
The lack of Hofacre's "slam-dunk" proof, combined with pressure on Congress from
agricultural interests, has led the FDA to take an uncharacteristically
light-handed approach to livestock antibiotics over the years, an approach that
has earned it some scathing criticism. "For over thirty years," a federal judge
declared in a 2012 ruling, the FDA "has been confronted with evidence of the
human health risks associated with the widespread subtherapeutic use of
antibiotics in food-producing animals and…has done shockingly little to address
these risks." A court also ordered the FDA to act on its own 1977 finding that
use of tetracycline and penicillin in livestock feed contributes to
drug-resistant bacteria strains and should only be used for therapeutic
purposes, and demanded that the FDA belatedly determine whether five other
antibiotic classes are safe to use in food animals.
In contradictory fashion, the FDA is appealing that order while, it says, it is
pressuring drug manufacturers and meat producers to use antibiotics more
judiciously. Under current rules, for instance, a farmer can walk into an
agricultural supply store, buy a bottle of veterinary penicillin off the shelf,
and treat his own animals with the drugs. Instead, the FDA proposes for the
first time to require a prescription from a veterinarian for use of antibiotics
in food animals. Over the next three years, livestock producers would also phase
out the use of antibiotics merely to promote growth, one of the four uses (or
"labels") allowed under current FDA rules.
Things as common as strep throat or a child's scratched knee could once again
-- Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization
But that would be voluntary,, and getting rid of the growth-promotion label
might not reduce antibiotic use. Drug companies understand "that there are other
ways to get antibiotics into animals without calling it growth promoting," said
Gail Hansen, a veterinarian and senior officer, human health & industrial
farming, at The Pew Charitable Trusts. One veterinarian who defended current
practice even argued that routine feeding of subtherapeutic antibiotics could
increase under the new rules, merely re-labeled as "prevention." To further
complicate the issue, the same federal judge who reprimanded the FDA in 2012 has
described its voluntary approach as "contrary to the statutory language," adding
that the agency has "forsaken" its obligation to ensure the safety and
effectiveness of drugs.
Opacity about agricultural use of antibiotics also continues to handicap the
agency, according to Tyler Smith at Johns Hopkins. The FDA can readily track
human antibiotic use and draw detailed maps correlating it with local patterns
of antibiotic resistance. But under current rules, it has no idea where
agricultural antibiotics go after leaving the drug companies for the feed mills.
The feed mills are required to record, but not report, how they mix the
antibiotics into their products. That loophole, said Smith, means that an FDA
epidemiologist trying to figure out why resistant infections are hospitalizing
more people in a particular area has to visit the mills to inspect the physical
records. But there are hundreds of them.
European governments, meanwhile, have responded to the resistance crisis with
aggressive disclosure requirements. Germany now collects data on both human and
animal use of antibiotics down to the postal code level, making it easier for
researchers to correlate usage patterns with changes in antibiotic resistance.
Denmark has instituted a "yellow card" system to flag excessive antibiotic use
by individual farms.
William T. Flynn, a deputy director for science policy at the FDA's Center for
Veterinary Medicine, thinks it's doubtful anything that rigorous "would even be
workable" here, he said, given the scale and complexity of U.S. agriculture.
Instead, the FDA has sought public comment on options for improved disclosure.
Some of those comments will be included in the agency's next summary report on
the issue, said Flynn, and may help the agency evaluate whether its voluntary
strategy for reducing use of antibiotics on livestock is working. Industry has
rejected reporting requirements as too cumbersome and costly. But secrecy may
lose its appeal as farmers and the livestock industry begin to confront their
own potential vulnerability on the front lines of the resistance crisis.
Changing the debate in startling ways is rapidly expanding research on the
microbiome. Advances in DNA technology now allow researchers to study the
microbes living within our bodies and in our domesticated animals in
unprecedented detail--and that promises news both good and bad for the meat
The harbinger of this change was a bacterial strain that first came to the
attention of public health officials in 2003, after Eric and Ine van den Heuvel,
a farm couple in the Netherlands, scheduled their six-month-old daughter for
surgery to correct a congenital heart defect. Before Eveline could be admitted
to the hospital, a test showed that she was carrying an unknown strain of
Staphylococcus aureus bacteria resistant to the potent antibiotic methicillin.
Researchers dubbed it MRSA ST398 (for "methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus
aureus strain 398"). Investigators soon turned up other cases in Eveline's
family and in the surrounding community. This was a big deal: Methicillin was
developed to treat bacteria resistant to most penicillins, and was one of the
best drugs available for treating staph infections, which anyone can get from
activities as routine as changing a diaper.
All of the cases were closely tied to pig farms like that of the van den Heuvels,
where antibiotics were routinely administered to healthy animals. Researchers
went to work gathering samples of ST398 from humans and livestock in 19
countries. To investigate the strain in detail, they turned to whole genome
sequencing, a powerful tool that now costs as little as $300 to analyze an
organism's complete DNA (down from $500,000 just a few years ago). This
technology makes it possible to trace the recent evolutionary history, or
phylogeny, of a bacterial strain and determine when and where a particular trait
entered the genome.
"We went in thinking it was a pig strain," said the principal investigator,
Lance Price, professor at George Washington University and a leader in the field
of genomic epidemiology. Instead, ST398 turned out to be a case of the humans
contaminating the animals--but with a troubling wrinkle: The antibiotic
methicillin worked just fine to control the original human strain of ST398. But
after it jumped species, living in pigs forced it to adapt. By the time it
jumped back to humans, exposure to the antibiotics used in pig farming
encouraged the growth of a mutant strain with a resistance gene, rendering
methicillin powerless. (It took months--and abandoning the use of agricultural
antibiotics--but the van den Heuvels were able to purge Eveline of the strain and
get her the heart surgery needed to save her life.)
A few years ago a small pilot study in this country found ST398 in 20.5 percent
of pig farm workers. Michael Male, coauthor and veterinarian to Iowa pig farms,
cautioned that this may just be a case of temporary contamination, not
colonization or infection. ST398 is also a relatively innocuous strain of MRSA,
at least so far. But he added, "It raises everybody's eyebrows."
It may also raise eyebrows among liability lawyers. Up to now, the cost of
antibiotic resistance has fallen on society at large, not on hospitals or
companies that misuse antibiotics. But over the next few years, whole genome
sequencing could turn that around so the costs are borne by the individual
company whose practices created the antibiotic resistant strain or promoted its
Because of the ability of the new technology to do detailed detective work, said
Rob Knight, a microbiome researcher at the University of Colorado, it won't be
like the fight over tobacco, in which it took decades to make the statistical
connection to cancer convincing. "If you have the complete genome and the
phylogeny that points you right back to one geographically isolated source
that's on one particular company's feedlot, that's going to be really hard to
argue against," Knight said. "And it's easy to explain in the courtroom: Here's
the genome, and here's how it matches up with this genome that we found on this
company's feedlot, and here's 100,000 genomes from all over the country that
don't match." In short: "slam-dunk" proof (provided that database of 100,000
genomes gets built).
Antibiotic resistance has figured in liability lawsuits only if it has
complicated a client's treatment, said Seattle attorney William Marler, who
specializes in food poisoning cases. (He represented Ruby Lee, for instance,
after conventional DNA fingerprinting tied her Salmonella strain directly to
ground turkey from Cargill.) But resistance could play a bigger part in future
lawsuits. "The one thing that genetic fingerprinting has done, and whole genome
sequencing will do," said Marler, "is, it narrows and solidifies what's a case
and what's not a case."
The other factor that may end or limit the practice of routine feeding of
antibiotics to livestock is the market. Consumer Reports found in a survey last
year that 61 percent of shoppers said "antibiotic-free" meat was worth an extra
nickel a pound to them--and 37 percent said they'd pay up to a $1 a pound more.
Restaurants from nera Bread to Chipotle Mexican Grill have already anticipated
this demand by enacting policies to reduce, phase out, or eliminate sourcing
from suppliers that use antibiotics, as have supermarket chains such as Wegmans
(stung in 2012 by
an E. coli
outbreak f from a salad mix) and Whole Foods Market.
And some livestock producers are waking up to the idea that just getting rid of
the "growth promotion" label may not be enough. "In the past, the big companies
were less willing to have an honest, serious conversation about cutting back on
antibiotics, and I am seeing that change," said Helene York of Bon Appétit
Management Co., which runs 500 cafés and restaurants for college campuses and
corporations, including Google and Starbucks.
Bon Appétit decided back in 2003 that its poultry suppliers should not be
routinely administering antibiotics, and in 2007 that its ground beef should be
from animals that have never been given antibiotics, period. At first it
struggled to find suppliers, said York. But the big meat-producing companies
that once gave the company the polite brush-off now "know that how they are
going to grow has to be more responsible than how they got to where they are."
So far the rising concern about antibiotic resistance has been good news mainly
for companies like Niman Ranch and Coleman Natural Foods (owned by Perdue) and
independent farmers like Russ Kremer in Missouri. They're making a market for
premium-priced meat in those people in the Consumer Reports poll.
Kremer started out in the 1970s attending farming social events sponsored by
drug companies, and he believed what they said about the magic of subtherapeutic
antibiotics. But his own bout with a resistant infection, and a fear that he was
helping to create "monster bugs" on his farm (which is, no kidding, in the
unincorporated community of Frankenstein), caused a change of heart. The first
year after "kicking the drug habit," he recalls today, he saved $16,000 on drugs
and veterinary fees, and his pigs were healthier to boot. Kremer now helps other
farmers switch to the "sustainable value-added market." They use probiotics--microorganisms
thought to be beneficial--to keep their animals healthy and boost growth rates.
Oregano oil is a standard ingredient. So are derivatives from colostrum--a form
of milk produced just after childbirth--to help stimulate immune function.
It may sound like something out of the food co-op fringe, but this is where
research into the microbiome promises to deliver good news even for the largest
meat companies and perhaps also for their customers. Until recently, producers
have been largely in the dark about the microbes that live in and around their
livestock. They've never really known, for instance, exactly what it is that
antibiotics do that makes animals grow faster. But microbiome research makes it
possible to understand the microbes involved at every stage in an animal's
life--and also tweak them. That's putting the big livestock companies, and the
drug companies that supply them, on a new path.
I think we're on the path to abandon antibiotics, and we're going to get there
sooner rather than later.
-- -- Mike Robach, vice president of food safety, Cargill
In response to the shifting marketplace, Eli Lilly's animal health division,
Elanco, is currently expanding its line of growth-promoting natural enzymes as
an alternative to antibiotics in livestock feed. Likewise, probiotics are now a
hot topic at Perdue Foods: "I would've said, 10 years ago when we were looking
at it, that probiotics didn't prove out any of the claims. Today they are much
more refined," said Bruce Stewart-Brown, senior vice president of food safety
and quality for Perdue. "We're still learning about these products and how they
work in different kinds of chicken. But, oh, yeah, we use 'em."
At Cargill, source of the meat that poisoned Ruby Lee with antibiotic-resistant
Salmonella, researchers have been experimenting with competitive exclusion, a
technique for getting chicks started by inoculating them with "good" intestinal
bacteria so there's no room for "bad" bacteria to take hold. "The turkey recall
of 2011 got us thinking again," said Mike Robach, vice president of food safety.
"This popped out at us." Early in 2012, company researchers treated half the
turkey chicks in a test population with competitive exclusion. The other half
served as a control, receiving no special treatment. Next day, researchers fed
both groups a meal deliberately loaded with Salmonella. A week later, the
treated birds had only a 10th as much Salmonella as the controls. If the
technique wins FDA approval, said Robach, "it would allow us to continue to
reduce the use of antibiotics in these animals."
Would his company ever abandon subtherapeutic antibiotics completely? Robach
would not put a timeline on it. But he didn't flat-out dismiss the idea either.
"I think we're on that path," he said, "and we're going to get there sooner
rather than later."
The question is whether the industry will shake its antibiotics addiction before
Chan's nightmare scenario of "an end to modern medicine as we know it" comes
Either way, consumers may continue the trend toward giving up on mass-produced
meat altogether. Ruby Lee is now a normal, healthy three-year-old--and a meat
lover. Melissa Lee and her husband haven't become rtlandia-style foodies. They
aren't health nuts. But the experience of seeing their child so deathly ill and
a victim of antibiotic resistance has led them to avoid meat raised on a steady
diet of antibiotics. "We're just very careful what we give her, how we cook it,
what it comes in contact with, everything," she said.
They have plenty of company. In a survey by a marketing firm for the meat
industry, 41 percent of consumers expressed concern about antibiotic use--and 23
percent said they were switching to naturally raised products, or not buying red
meat at all. A spokesperson for the survey company said it was all a
misunderstanding, and that consumers simply need to be educated.