Introduction Factory farming is a cheap and effective way to ensure that everyone can have affordable access to various meats. It’s an advanced system that optimizes food output as quickly as possible to keep up with the global demand for more protein rich food sources. However, diseases flourish with how factory farming is modeled. This is due to the animals being kept in tight quarters, crammed together under the roof of a warehouse. To combat diseases, factory farms use antibiotics to cure anything and everything that infects the animals before they are processed.
This problem should be cared about as almost everybody eats meat that was processed in a farm and by nderstanding the situation one can make better decisions when it comes to nutrition. By causing destruction to humans and the environment, there needs to be solutions to this problem such as reducing the use of antibiotics, using alternatives to antibiotics, and understanding antibiotic abused products as a consumer. What are antibiotics? Antibiotics have been around for almost a century. Since its discovery, antibiotics have been used excessively by not only people, but also animals.
In fact, the Natural Resources and Defense Council found that 80% of the antibiotics manufactured in the United States is actually given to animals (“Reduce Antibiotic Misuse in Livestock”, 2017) with the majority of its most specifically to farm animals. The animals that live in factory farms aren’t immune to illness and infection, so farmers prescribe them with high doses when they are suffering from a malady. For healthy animals, farmers add low doses in the feed and water to prevent future health problems (“Antibiotic Use in Livestock Production”).
This does seem like a logical and safe solution to the problem of livestock getting sick, but the overuse of antibiotics has a serious and negative side effect. The misuse of antibiotics in farm animals is breeding antibacterial resistant organisms called superbugs. Superbugs are created when the bacteria living within the animals become resistant to antibiotics through overexposure. The strongest bacteria strains survive the exposure and then pass on the resistance trait to the next generation while the weak and often time es helpful bacteria gets killed.
In the end, the antibiotic is no longer effective (“Effects of Antibiotics on Animal Feed – Presentation”). These superbugs that emerge are much stronger than their ancestors, making it more difficult for the human body to combat them. According to the Federal Interagency Task Force on Antimicrobial Resistance, “the extensive use of antimicrobial drugs has resulted in drug resistance that threatens to reverse the medical advances of the last seventy years”. Since antibiotics have been used so widely and for so long, antibiotic resistance has become a major public health threat.
It’s been found that the use of antibiotics in animals contributes to the lack of effectiveness of human medication (“The Overuse of Antibiotics in Food Animals Threatens Public Health | Consumers Union”). This affects everyone, no matter what their social and economic status is. Anyone purchasing factory farmed meats, even unknowingly, is at risk of falling victim to antibiotic resistant bacteria. Diseases Due to Antibiotics Contrary to popular belief, farm animals are less likely to become sick even when they are abused by the overuse of antibiotics but this is not the case for humans.
Any creature can carry an illness without experiencing the symptoms of it so the way humans tend to get superbugs is through eating the factory farmed meat. Birds provide an optimal environment for one such bacteria called Campylobacter. This is the bacteria that causes Campylobacteriosis. Symptoms of this illness include diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain, and fever within two to five days after exposure to the organism. Some infected people do not have any symptoms but in people with compromised immune systems, Campylobacter occasionally spreads to the bloodstream and causes a serious life-threatening infection.
The use of fluoroquinolone, an antibiotic approved by the government, has given rise to a highly resistant strain of this bacteria. The use of such chemicals compromises not just one drug, but can have an effect on other similar medication as well. This happened in Europe, where bacteria started becoming resistant to vancomycin, a drug used to treat several life threatening diseases. Due to this, doctors had to use synercid, a drug of last resort for the treatment of vancomycin-resistant infections.
However, this drug’s effectiveness is threatened in the United States because of the use of virginiamycin as a growth promoter in chickens and pigs (“Infectious Disease Campylobacter General Information | Foodborne Illnesses | CDC”). This means that the cost of medication, both in terms of research and consumption and distribution will increase. One of the most common superbugs out there is Salmonella. Every year, Salmonella is estimated to cause one million foodborne illnesses in the United States, with 19,000 hospitalizations and 380 deaths.
Most people infected with Salmonella experience diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps twelve to seventy-two hours after infection (“The Overuse of Antibiotics in Food Animals Threatens Public Health | Consumers Union”). With the increasing use of antibiotics in animals, this bacterium is becoming more and more resistant to current drugs. Consumer Reports tested in 2013 and 2014 that more than two-thirds of chicken samples were contaminated with Salmonella and more than sixty percent of those bacteria were resistant to one or more antibiotics. A superbug outbreak can be serious enough to command the attention of the Center or Disease Control.
One such case occurred in 2011, in which ground turkey was linked to one hundred thirty-six illnesses and one death, all caused by a strain of Salmonella resistant to four different antibiotics, ampicillin, streptomycin, tetracycline and gentamicin. Some 36 million pounds of ground turkey were recalled (“The Overuse of Antibiotics in Food Animals Threatens Public Health | Consumers Union”). When such large amounts of food get wasted, not only does the meat get wasted, but also the resources that go into raising it including the feed, water, and cost of medications.
While not disputing the existence of these superbugs, the farming industry argues essentially that what happens on the farm stays on the farm. They claim that there may be some superbugs there, but they don’t affect people. However, there are two main routes by which superbugs can leave the farm and infect humans. One is a direct route, in meat and poultry products, and the other is an indirect route through the environment. Antibiotics don’t only affect humans, but can have serious repercussions on the environment as well. Farm animals need to release bodily waste and the waste has to go somewhere.
When an animal defecates, the bacteria inside of it live on in the manure and contaminate the soil, contaminating rivers when it rains due to runoff. According to Farm Sanctuary, “Factory farms yield a relatively small amount of meat, dairy, and eggs for this input, and in return produce staggering quantities of waste and greenhouse gases, polluting our land, air, and water and contributing to climate change” (“Farm Sanctuary”, 2017, para. 1). Using Alternatives to Antibiotics Even if factory farms ban antibiotics altogether, there are still options like probiotics to keep the food bacteria free.
The use of probiotics for farm animals has increased considerably over the last fifteen years. Probiotics are living microorganisms which can benefit health for the host when administered in appropriate and regular quantities. Once ingested, the probiotic microorganisms can modulate the balance and activities of the gastrointestinal microbiota, whose role is fundamental to gut homeostasis. It has been demonstrated that numerous factors, such as dietary and management constraints, can strongly affect the structure and activities of the gut microbial communities, leading to impaired health and performance in livestock animals (F&H, 2008).
What We can do as Consumers As a consumer, reducing the consumption of meat all together is a great way to prevent catching a superbug, reducing risks of heart disease, stroke, cancer, and obesity. While it is healthier for the body to consume less meat it is also healthier for the planet. Factory farms use large amounts of food and water to raise the animals before they get slaughtered. If the demand for meat goes down, less resources will be used (“Why Meatless? – Meatless Monday”, 2003). Conclusion
I imagined there is no good deed I can execute to contribute to the problem of factory farming. I was mistaken. I did not go as far as to resort to vegetarianism; but in helping support the end of factory farming, I made a few steps. One, I dug a little deeper into my pockets to purchase meats, cheeses, bread, butter, and just about whatever I needed in joining the boycott of factory farms. For instance, New Leaf, a grocery store right across the street from my home has been open for years and not once did I step foot in the establishment until recently.
Thanks to this assignment, I have a new, favorite, “go-to” store. Not only are the prices reasonable and the quality of food exceptional, they, too, have taken a step in boycotting factory farms by offering foods family farmed, USDA Organic, American Grassfed Certified, Animal Welfare Approved, and so much more. By finding solutions such as reducing the use of antibiotics, using alternatives to antibiotics, and understanding antibiotic abused products as a consumer, there can be an increase to overall well-being of not only humans but also the environment.
All of these solutions are not only feasible but also actionable as they are grounded to reality and achievable through current resources. Aside from humans and the environment, the forgotten victims of this issue are the farm animals themselves. Perhaps by issuing these solutions, the welfare of farm animals can be increased as well as their place of captivity can be remodeled so that further outbreaks and transmission of diseases can be drastically reduced.
In the end, these solutions spell out a win-win situation for humans, animals, and the environment alike. Factory farming trickles down to the fact that the meat I am so proud to consume and feed my family is beyond disturbing. Although the concept of factory farming has been around since the beginning of time, the industry is now a potential threat not only to the animals themselves but our well-being, the environment, and the economy as well.