Extremely brief back-story:
- For roughly the past 50 years, animal production in the US has morphed from a horizontal industry of small family farms to a vertical one populated mostly by very large breeding-feeding operations that are closely tied to slaughter-processing-distribution businesses.
- These industrial farms — commonly called CAFOs for "concentrated animal feeding operations" — start at about 1,000 cattle or 10,000 chickens and often are orders of magnitude larger. That many animals crowded together exceeds the carrying capacity of any pasture, and CAFO animals are commonly fed industrial feed.
- Those conditions obviously do not match the ones for which the animals evolved, and as a result the animals do not grow well in them. So to keep them healthy and speed their growth — they are an industrial product after all, and production speed affects profit — industrially raised animals are routinely fed small doses of antibiotics; by one estimate, 70% of all antibiotics used in the United States are given to food animals not humans.
- And as human medicine has demonstrated, the more that antibiotics are used, and therefore the more that organisms are exposed to them, the more likely it is that antibiotic resistance will develop.
- CAFOs Uncovered, by Doug Gurian-Sherman and the Union of Concerned Scientists, estimates that the cost to taxpayers of CAFOs' promotion of resistance equals $1 billion to $3 billion per year.
- Putting Meat on the Table, a joint project of the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, calls on Congress to phase out and then ban all non-therapeutic use of antimicrobials in animals (that is, in any animals that are not sick or have not been exposed to disease).
(For earlier posts on MRSA in food animals, go here.)