Bugged

March 13, 2007

The warning to sausage-eaters, about not watching it be made, should also direct the gaze of other meat-eaters away from factory-style cattle, pig or poultry farms. Exposure to the cruel and cramped conditions in which the animals are kept as well as the poor quality of their feed might well upset lunch.

But what's downright unconscionable is the use by farmers of powerful antibiotics, partly to combat the ill effects of the animals' living conditions. The practice poses the risk of negating the antibiotics' healing effects on humans.

Congress should move quickly to phase out the routine use of human antibiotics for feed animals and to block an anticipated move by the Food and Drug Administration to approve a highly potent new drug, cefquinome, for treatment of a pneumonia-like disease in cattle. Especially in an era when there's so much concern about pandemics, it makes no sense to weaken medicine's best defenses against infection simply to protect the commercial interests of the pharmaceutical and meat industries.

Medical experts have complained for years that widespread use of most human antibiotics as feed additives for chicken, hogs and beef cattle - both to promote growth and to compensate for unhealthy surroundings - diminishes the effectiveness of these drugs in humans.

The American Medical Association and other scientific and consumer groups are particularly alarmed at the prospect of cefquinome being approved for cattle. It would be the first of a still powerful class of antibiotics to be given to animals, and they fear it would spur development of super-resistant microbes, which could be passed on to humans through food, air and water.

Yet The Washington Post reported last week that the FDA is poised to ignore such warnings, even from its own advisory committee, and grant the approval this spring. Such a move by an agency already seen as too cozy with the pharmaceutical industry at the expense of the public should give added momentum to a legislative drive intended to sharply curtail this casual exploitation of a tool so important to human health.

Diseases caused by resistant germs bring with them more severe symptoms and longer hospitalizations, medical experts say.

Ponder that over your next hamburger or chicken fingers.

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