Agriculture Reference
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antibiotics in livestock, unless the animal is sick. The FDA
in the United States has thus far been reluctant to follow the
European Union, but in 2012 it initiated new rules that seemed
to be heading in that direction, and at the end of 2013 began
taking action to make sure antibiotics used to treat humans
are not also used in livestock production. Because the livestock
industry has already transitioned away from using antibiotics
that are also used by humans, these changes by the FDA are
expected to impact the livestock industry only slightly.
The livestock industry continues to argue that the benefits
of the antibiotics are worth the cost, and that claims the anti-
biotics are creating “superbugs” (human bacterial infections
that are resistant to all antibiotics) are not founded in empiri-
cal evidence. Though it might seem the industry is acting like
a “merchant of doubt,” even the scientists blaming superbugs
on livestock admit that the impact on human health may be
impossible to measure scientifically.
Are we “eating” antibiotics and antibiotic-resistant bacteria,
when consuming a product not labeled “antibiotic-free?” Well,
it is unlikely to encounter an “antibiotic-free” label, especially
for regulated products, because all food produced according to
law is virtually free of antibiotic residues. The USDA prohibits
antibiotics from being used close to slaughter, and the definition
of “close” is set to ensure all antibiotics are given time to clear
the animal's body. Because some people are allergic to antibiot-
ics, residues on food must be close to zero to prevent allergic
reactions. The USDA tests products for antibiotic residues, and
only rarely do they exceed their maximum threshold set by the
government. The vast majority of the time antibiotic residues in
meat, eggs, and dairy products are exactly zero. Some products
may say “Raised without antibiotics,” which means the animal
was never given antibiotics. While this may initially sound
appealing to some, giving farmers a premium for not using
antibiotics means they are more likely to let a sick animal go
untreated—that's bad for animal welfare. The restaurant chain
Chipotle in 2013 sought to strike a reasonable compromise,
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