When Katie Couric of CBS News donned muck-proof boots and marched, Upton Sinclair-like, into an industrial pig farm, the meat industry prayed that CBS News' two-part investigation on antibiotic use at America's large pork, chicken and beef farms wouldn't be that bad. It was. In fact, for evening news, it was surprisingly muckraking.
Couric's account delved into the ways the rampant use of antibiotics like Tylan, Keflex, and Baytril on perfectly healthy animals is creating resistant superbugs that are attacking humans with staph infections like MRSA. She interviewed several farm workers who say they have been stricken with multiple nasty infections that did not respond to traditional antibiotics:
And it's not just Couric. Scientists have come forward with concerns about antibiotic resistance and the FDA has, for the first time, indicated a desire to clamp down the use of antibiotics in meat production.
Fearing the controversy could reach a tipping point, the meat industry is fighting back. The National Cattlemen's Beef Association held a briefing on Capitol Hill last week to drum up opposition to a bill that would prevent the introduction of any new animal antibiotic drugs unless the federal government is certain the drugs will not contribute to antimicrobial resistance.
On its web site, The National Pork Board insists that hog farmers do not administer antibiotics willy-nilly, but only when animals are sick or "exposed to illness" (which technically could be all the time, but that's probably not what they mean).
The group doesn't deny there are increasing numbers of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the human population, but they claim they aren't responsible for the mess. "Modern pork-production facilities provide animals with an environment designed to keep them safe, healthy and comfortable," they say.