Quantcast

Chef Tom Colicchio Shines Spotlight on Antibiotic Use in U.S. Meat Industry

Natural Resources Defense Council

By Sasha Lyutse

Tom Colicchio is best known as a celebrity chef, but it’s his role as a good food advocate that brought him to the set of Morning Joe yesterday morning. Colicchio was there to talk about a new scorecard released last month by Food Policy Action, the first ever effort to rank members of Congress based on how they vote on food policy. As Colicchio explained, if you care about food issues, you now have a tool to hold your local politicians accountable, be it on issues related to hunger, food safety or local farming systems. In other words, we can now not only vote with our food dollars, but also with our votes

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

As a big fan of accountability, I say hooray! But that’s not where the conversation ended. Asked what the biggest challenge on food safety is, Colicchio went straight to the issue of antibiotics use in the U.S. meat industry. Here’s his answer in full:

“One of the biggest problems right now is antibiotics in animals. It’s causing a major problem. I see it in hog growing regions. There’s huge outbreaks of things like MRSA, of bacterial infections we can’t control anymore. A majority of the antibiotics that are out there, that are used, aren’t in humans—it actually goes to animals. That’s one of the biggest problems.”

Asked why this is the case, Colicchio continued:

“When you take animals and you put them in confined feedlots to grow them indoors and in closed quarters, you have to pump them with antibiotics or they’ll die. So this is done in advance of infection. It’s not done once the animal is infected. It’s done in advance.”

Asked how we regulate the practice, here’s Colicchio one last time:

“It’s policy, good food policy.”

We couldn’t agree more.  

Today, 3-times more antibiotics go to chickens, pigs and cows that are not sick than to people who are, a practice that now ranks amongst the key culprits in the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria known as "superbugs."

Drug-resistant infections are harder for doctors to treat, lead to longer illnesses, more hospital stays, and even death when treatments fail. They are also estimated to cost Americans up to $26 billion dollars per year in additional healthcare costs. Multi-drug resistant infections, such as the life-threatening disease MRSA that Colicchio referred to, are on the rise while the development of new antibiotics is coming to a standstill.

Medical groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association, public health groups such as the American Public Health Association and scientific groups such as the American Society for Microbiology all agree that such use must stop to protect public health and have sounded the alarm. Yet the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—the federal agency charged with regulating the use of antibiotics in the livestock sector—has not stopped the practice, despite knowing for more than 30 years that mixing antibiotics essential to human medicine into animal feed poses a risk to human health.

Ignoring the science and calls to action by the nation's leading scientific and health-focused organizations? Not very good policy.

In May 2011, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) took action. We filed a lawsuit against the FDA to finally end the use of medically important antibiotics in animal agriculture. And we won.

But even though the agency was ordered—twice—by a federal court to act on the widespread misuse of antibiotics in animal feed, it remains focused on a false solution—an unenforceable recommendation list to industry they call a “voluntary guidance.” With the voluntary guidance, FDA is allowing the industry to police itself—to “opt-in” or “opt-out” as it wishes. That’s a virtual guarantee of the status quo, which we already know does not work. After all, FDA has essentially been operating under a “voluntary” model since 1977, yet the practice of routinely feeding antibiotics to animals that are not sick has expanded exponentially over the years. 

An industrialized meat system that breeds superbugs cannot be called safe and preserving life-saving antibiotics cannot be optional for industry and the government. We deserve better.

FDA has appealed the court's ruling, asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to overturn both decisions. Here at NRDC, we remain fully engaged in the litigation and are moving forward with making our case before the court. And as Tom Colicchio made clear, the new National Food Policy Scorecard will now give us—and all interested Americans—an important additional tool to hold our lawmakers accountable should any Congressional votes on the issue arise. So here's to accountability and to Tom for being a champion on this issue.

Visit EcoWatch’s FOOD and Factory Farming pages for more related news on this topic.

 

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Bumblebees flying and pollinating a creeping thyme flower. emeliemaria / iStock / Getty Images

It pays to pollinate in Minnesota.

Read More Show Less
Aerial view of icebergs on Arctic Ocean in Greenland. Explora_2005 / iStock / Getty Images

The annual Arctic thaw has kicked off with record-setting ice melt and sea ice loss that is several weeks ahead of schedule, scientists said, as the New York Times reported.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Sled dog teams pull researchers from the Danish Meteorological Institute through meltwater on the Greenland ice sheet in early June, 2019. Danish Meteorological Institute / Steffen M. Olsen

By Jon Queally

In yet the latest shocking image depicting just how fast the world's natural systems are changing due to the global climate emergency, a photograph showing a vast expanse of melted Arctic ice in Greenland — one in which a pair of sled dog teams appear to be walking on water — has gone viral.

Read More Show Less
CAFOs often store animal waste in massive, open-air lagoons, like this one at Vanguard Farms in Chocowinity, North Carolina. Bacteria feeding on the animal waste turns the mixture a bright pink. picstever / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

By Tia Schwab

It has been almost a year since Hurricane Florence slammed the Carolinas, dumping a record 30 inches of rainfall in some parts of the states. At least 52 people died, and property and economic losses reached $24 billion, with nearly $17 billion in North Carolina alone. Flood waters also killed an estimated 3.5 million chickens and 5,500 hogs.

Read More Show Less
Members of the NY Renews coalition gathered before New York lawmakers reached a deal on the Climate and Communities Protection Act. NYRenews / Twitter

By Julia Conley

Grassroots climate campaigners in New York applauded on Monday after state lawmakers reached a deal on sweeping climate legislation, paving the way for the passage of what could be some of the country's most ambitious environmental reforms.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
In this picture taken on June 4, an Indian boatman walks amid boats on the dried bed of a lake at Nalsarovar Bird Sanctuary, on the eve of World Environment Day. Sam Panthaky / AFP / Getty Images

By Julia Conley

Nearly 50 people died on Saturday in one Indian state as record-breaking heatwaves across the country have caused an increasingly desperate situation.

Read More Show Less
A man carries a poster in New York City during the second annual nationwide March For Science on April 14, 2018. Kena Betancur / Getty Images

By Will J. Grant

In an ideal world, people would look at issues with a clear focus only on the facts. But in the real world, we know that doesn't happen often.

People often look at issues through the prism of their own particular political identity — and have probably always done so.

Read More Show Less

YinYang / E+ / Getty Images

In a blow to the Trump administration, the Supreme Court ruled Monday to uphold a Virginia ban on mining uranium, Reuters reported.

Read More Show Less