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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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And AVMA? "At the heart of this discussion is the premise that the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture directly contributes to bacterial resistance in humans," says the vet group, urging its members to fight PAMTA. A livestock antibiotic ban in Denmark, "has not shown any clear declines in antibiotic resistance patterns in humans," says AVMA, though CBS News and Food Safety News find otherwise.

Antibiotic resistant intestinal infections increased in Europe after certain antibiotics were introduced on farms, reported CBS. But after Denmark declared a ban, it "drastically reduced antibiotic-resistant bacteria in animals and food." The Denmark's Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries reported that the ban resulted in "overall reductions of antimicrobial resistance countrywide," said Food Safety News.

Nor is AVMA the only veterinary group that sides with industry over animals. The American Association of Swine Veterinarians was one of the groups filing a friend-of-the-court brief supporting this week's Supreme Court ruling, National Meat Association v. Harris, that overturned California's humane slaughter law. The law was enacted after the 2008 Westland/Hallmark school lunch meat scandal in which cows too sick and weak to walk were videotaped forklifted and "water-boarded" to the slaughter line. The humane slaughter law prohibits buying, selling or receiving downer animals and processing, butchering or selling them for human consumption. It requires non-ambulatory animals to be immediately euthanized.

Big Meat and its veterinarians argued the California law "criminalizes" the work of federal slaughterhouse inspectors who are presumably preventing slaughterhouse atrocities without the California law's help. But former USDA inspectors Lester Friedlander, DVM and Dean Wyatt, DVM have testified that federal inspection is a mockery that puts the public at risk at the same time it permits appalling animal abuse.

In fact, antibiotics form such a huge part of Big Pharma revenues, antibiotic resistance literally divides medical professionals along species lines. Many medical groups, including the American Medical Association and the American Public Health Association, support PAMTA out of concern for patient infections while big veterinary groups tend to oppose it.

At first it looked like PAMTA might have a friend in the FDA's newly appointed deputy commissioner, Joshua Sharfstein, who was a pediatrician and the former food safety staffer for Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA). Both he and the newly appointed FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, had public health backgrounds and were not industry insiders.

At a 2009 House Rules Committee meeting, Sharfstein surprised lawmakers by indicating that the FDA supported PAMTA. The ag lobby was enraged because Sharfstein's remarks implied White House Office of Management and Budget approval, yet there had been no briefing.

"You deliberately tried to blindside some of us on this committee, and we don't appreciate that," barked Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-IA), former House agriculture subcommittee on livestock chairman, to Michael Taylor, FDA senior adviser on food safety (considered a friend of agribusiness, until the Sharfstein remarks).

But by early 2011, Kennedy had died, Sharfstein had left the FDA abruptly and without comment, and Big Meat had already showed lawmakers where they could put their cephalosporin ban. Congress seemed to have little appetite left to go up against Big Meat.

So it's no surprise that in 2012, the FDA is waving through major livestock antibiotics, attaching Mickey Mouse restrictions on others, and US meat is full of super bugs--even meat labeled "raised without antibiotics."

Martha Rosenberg frequently writes about the impact of the pharmaceutical, food and gun industries on public health. Her work has appeared in the Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune and other outlets.

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