In some cases, drugs once used to fight these ailments no longer work properly. A recent Associated Press report says that more than 65,000 people in the United States died last year from drug-resistant infections — more than were killed by prostate cancer and breast cancer combined.
One of the causes can be traced to U.S. agriculture. Today, some farmers commonly feed their animals millions of pounds of antibiotics — mostly to pigs, chickens and cows. The germs in these animals develop resistance to these drugs.
These germs then find their way into humans by direct contact, through the meat when it is eaten and through the environment: dust clouds from farms and animal-waste runoff after heavy rains. Humans, often with their resistance low due to an overuse of antibiotics, can have trouble fighting the diseases. Traditional antibiotics don't work. New ones have not been found.
The loss of 65,000 lives can't be overlooked; what's a life worth? Do not lose sight of that when we consider that farmers use antibiotics because it prevents diseases in animals and helps the livestock grow faster. As a result, fewer animals are lost, more meat is available and the public gets it cheaper.
Drug companies make millions of dollars off the drugs they sell, which, of course, means jobs and profits to stockholders. Yet, because of America's use of these drugs in animals, some countries have refused to import U.S. meat.
On the other hand, what would happen if the government stepped in and outlawed the use of these drugs? The drug companies would lose money. Farmers would lose money and find their already regulated world even more carefully scrutinized by Washington. The price of meat would go up. Countries that banned our meat could buy it. There would be fewer drug resistant germs. More people would live.
Today, there is legislation being introduced to restrict the use of these antibiotics in order to fight what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have declared a "serious emerging concern."
Similar legislation has been brought up before, only to be opposed and defeated by pharmaceutical companies and farm groups.
Meanwhile, other groups are looking into ways to farm profitably without using antibiotics. But these operations are small when compared to the agribusiness giants that dominate that sector of the economy and oppose changes in the way things are currently done.
Any alteration in the use of antibiotics in animals would revolutionize farming and lead to readjustments that would initially cause problems in the farm economy. A failure to outlaw the use of antibiotics in animals would lead to more diseases in humans and in more deaths.
As they say, every decision is ultimately a moral decision. This is surely one.