The growing health concerns surrounding antibiotic-resistant bacteria are fueling the need for changes in food production. In fact, one of the world’s biggest restaurant chains, McDonald’s, made headlines in early March when it announced that its U.S. restaurants will gradually stop buying chicken raised with antibiotics.
Other food chains, like KFC, are feeling the pressure from consumer and environmental groups to follow suit and change the way its poultry are raised. The major retailer Costco has already decided to phase out the sale of antibiotic-infused meat at its stores.
The concern is that the overuse of antibiotics in animals may diminish their effectiveness in fighting disease in humans. Scientists say whenever an antibiotic is administered, it kills weaker bacteria and can enable the strongest to survive and multiply. When meat producers frequently use low-dose antibiotics, it can intensify that effect and create superbugs that might develop resistance to medically important antibiotics. According to the CDC, drug-resistant bacteria cause approximately 23,000 deaths and 2 million illnesses each year in the U.S.
These statistics are making the government take action. President Obama’s FY2016 budget released earlier this year proposed nearly doubling the amount of federal funding for preventing antibiotic resistance to more than $1.2 billion. And at the end of March, the White House released a plan that identifies critical actions to be taken by key federal departments and agencies to stop the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria, which was developed by the interagency Task Force for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria in response to Executive Order 13676: Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria, outlines steps for implementing the National Strategy on Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria and addressing the policy recommendations of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology report on Combating Antibiotic Resistance. Specific activities over the next five years are targeted at controlling the spread of “superbugs” by the year 2020.
Although some are applauding the Administration’s efforts in acknowledging the dangerous public health threat posed by antibiotic misuse, others think not enough is being done. In response to the recent National Action Plan, Mae Wu, health attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, states, “the Obama Administration needs to do more to reduce antibiotic use in animals that are not sick. The plan continues to allow the routine feeding of antibiotics to animals that live in the crowded conditions endemic to industrial farms.”