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The Scary Danger of Meat (Even For Those Who Don't Eat It)

The government has rolled over once again for Big Meat and we may be in more danger from antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

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At the hearings, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the Animal Health Institute, a Big Pharma trade group and the egg, chicken, turkey, milk, pork and cattle industries whined that they could not "farm" without antibiotics because more feed would be required and the animals would get sick from being immobilized over their own manure.

"To raise turkeys without antibiotics would increase the incidence of illness in turkey flocks," sniveled the National Turkey Federation's Michael Rybolt. Antibiotics "reduce the level of potentially harmful bacteria which result in infections and sickness," contended the National Milk Producers Federation Robert D. Byrne (key word, "potential"). Antibiotics decrease the amount of land needed to raise animals and provide a lower-priced "wholesome" product for the public, said one farm operator after another. One even claimed that manure is reduced because animals eat less. In their twisted thinking that would make factory farming green.

While most ag reps at the hearings defended the use of antibiotics for "treatment, prevention and control of disease," the AVMA's Christine Hoang actually went so far as to call the less feed that antibiotics make possible a "health-promoting" effect and a "therapeutic use." Maybe she meant health and therapy for the bottom line.

After the hearings, W. Ron DeHaven, who was the USDA's top vet before leaving for industry and helming the AVMA, penned a rambling, almost incoherent 18-page letter with 62 footnotes to the FDA. Cephalosporin-resistant "human pathogens" aren't increasing, says the letter, and even if they are, they're not affecting human health and even they're affecting human health, how do you know it's from the livestock drugs and even if it's from the livestock drugs, the FDA has no legal authority to ban cephalosporin. Got that?

Alternately maudlin and accusatory, the letter plays on terrorism fears by calling a cephalosporin ban a "food security issue" affecting "the number of animals available for the food supply." It also plays on humanitarian sentiments by claiming a ban would impede veterinarians' ability "to relieve the pain and suffering of animals" as if cephalosporins are painkillers and other drugs aren't available. (And as if antibiotics are given for animals' welfare instead of revenue welfare.)

Nowhere in the letter is mention of the rea$on Big Meat won't let go of antibiotics: the industry is able to raise thousands of animals in crowded conditions that would otherwise kill them for prices as "artificial" as the drugs they are raised on. Big Pharma's invasion into farming is probably the biggest reason for the demise of family farms which are no longer able to compete in price.

But less than a month after the letter was sent, on November 25, the FDA quietly revoked the prohibition. Good hire, AVMA!

Of course, the revolving door between government/Big Pharma lobbying has a distinguished tradition from Louisiana representative-turned-lobbyist, Billy Tauzin, who presided over the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) until 2010, to former CDC Director Julie Gerberding, who presided over the 2009 H1N1 flu outbreak and turned up as--anybody?-- head of Merck vaccines when she left the government.

It was not a great surprise that the FDA's new cephalosporin livestock rules, four years later, had the Agribusiness Seal of Approval. "We thought the original order was too broad and unnecessarily prohibited uses that were not likely to cause problems for human health," said AVMA's Dr. Hoang, perhaps tempted to take a bow.

The new rules, which no longer ban cephalosporins, limit "large and lengthy dosing in cattle and swine," says the New York Times, but allow uses "the F.D.A. has not specifically approved," and wide use in ducks and rabbits. Yum. Still, the new rules prohibit one unsavory factory farming practice that few are aware of--the "routine injections of cephalosporins into chicken eggs."

 
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