Livestock and Superbugs: Part 2

Why Pharmaceuticals are Utilized

Pharmaceuticals are administered to healthy livestock for two main reasons. The first is to prevent the spread of diseases (Estabrook). Sickness runs rampant on meat farms and Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) due to overcrowding and unsanitary practices (Estabrook). These farms also generate large quantities of manure, which is another carrier of diseases and illnesses.

A chicken CAFO

The second reason is to increase the animals’ rate of growth. Pharmaceutically enhanced meat is thicker, denser and plumper than that of natural meat (Peterson). The escalated growth rate and size enable farms to sell more and larger quantities of meat (Peterson).

Public Health Impacts

But these drugs are responsible for other health effects aside from their intended use. The following are some of the implications this practice has on public health.

  • Bacteria quickly evolve in the gut of livestock. Because of the overall improper use and overuse of drugs, this bacterium eventually become resistant to the pharmaceuticals ingested by the animal (Estabrook). These antibiotic and drug resistant bacteria strains, also known as superbugs, are transferred to the meat consumer (Estabrook). In turn, pharmaceutical drugs become less effective in treating illnesses across the human population (CDC).

Superbugs have been identified as “one of the world most pressing public health problems” (CDC). Every year, approximately two million people nation-wide catch a drug-resistant infection (NIH). When antibiotics do not work, people experience infections for longer periods of time and require more expensive medical help (CDC).  About 23,000 of those two million cases result in death (NIH).  Scientists have actually established a link between antibiotic use in animals and the loss of effectiveness of these drugs in human medicine (Consumers Union).

  • These Superbugs can also infiltrate the kitchen and home of the consumer. Tests have shown the presence of anti-biotic microorganisms in market poultry (Consumers Union). Raw supermarket poultry can contaminate your kitchen in a variety of ways like placing the product on a cutting board or the presence of leaking packages in the refrigerator (Consumers Union).  There is no direct evidence that implies being in the mere presence of superbug containing meat boosts an individual’s susceptibility to catching a particular illness (Consumers Union). Yet it’s worrisome to think that your own kitchen can be home to the same pathogens responsible for 23,000 deaths annually.
  • Superbugs can be transmitted throughout the environment. Farm workers are likely to obtain the resistant bacteria and carry them elsewhere in the environment (Consumer Union). Resistant bacteria can also seep into the environment via manure (Consumers Union). Oftentimes, the manure, which contains the superbugs, originating from a CAFO, is administered as a fertilizer on fields (Consumers Union).

The manure can also enter bodies of water due to the farms’ and CAFOs’ unsanitary manure disposal practices. Wind and insects can further spread the reach of superbugs meaning higher rates of exposure among habitats and wild animals.

Work Cited

Estabrook, Barry. “You Want Superbugs With That?” Food & Health, Culture & Politics. On Earth: A Survival Guide for the Planet, 27 May 2011. Web. 11 Dec. 2015.

“Facts about Antibiotic Resistance.” Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 17 Apr. 2015. Web. 12 Dec. 2015.

Peterson, Melody. “As Beef Cattle Become Behemoths, Who Are Animal Scientists Serving?” Opinions & Ideas. The Chronicle Review, 15 Apr. 2012. Web. 12 Dec. 2015.

“Stop the Spread of Superbugs: Help Fight Drug-Resistant Bacteria.” Features. NIH News in Health, Feb. 2014. Web. 12 Dec. 2015.

“The Overuse of Antibiotics in Food Animals Threatens Public Health.” Research. ConsumersUnio: Policy & Action from Consumer Reports, n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2015.


Miller, Kevin. “Superbugs: What They Are and How You Get Them.” WebMD Health News. WebMD, 17 Apr. 2015. Web. 12 Dec. 2015.


Livestock and Superbugs: Part 1

A Love Story Called Big Pharma and the Meat Industry 

In terms of agriculture, this post will focus on the relationship between meat production and pharmaceutical companies. The following fact is important to remember while reading this post: the average weight of a cow has risen from 1,000 pounds in 1975 to 1,300 pounds in 2012 (Peterson).

Matt-Sarah-Love-Story-Beach-San-Diego.jpgThis significant increase in weight is associated with the agriculture industry’s heavy use of antibiotics, hormones, and other growth-enhancing drugs (Peterson). These drugs are also employed to prevent the spread of diseases in overcrowded factory farming (Rouke).


Over the past three decades, public funding for food and agriculture research and development has leveled off (Peterson). In turn, the agricultural science sector and its agricultural universities have become increasingly dependent on financing from industries for research (Petterson). One of the largest corporate contributors to the agricultural science sector are pharmaceutical companies.

Overview of the Relationship

Big Pharma contributes to animal research by funding the agricultural universities’ animal scientists (Peterson). There are no limitations on how much corporate money animal scientists may receive. Approximately two thirds of all animal scientists have admitted to collecting funds from pharmaceutical giants (Peterson).

Agricultural universities’ financial dependence on Big Pharma has resulted in a shift of focus from ensuring public health to being an additional avenue for companies to market their drugs. Animal scientists employed by these universities are encouraged to persuade ranchers into feeding their livestock drugs (Peterson).

It’s not a tough sale, however: the beef industry reportedly earns $100 more in profit for every animal that ingests the drug (Peterson). The relationship between Big Pharma and the meat industry is mutually beneficial: both entities enjoy a raise in profits due to their co-dependence.

Distorted Research

Animal scientists commonly write scientific articles, which are financed by Big Pharma, about a particular drug (Peterson). Their findings tend to be positive due to the origins of the finances (Peterson). Additionally, findings on adverse outcomes are not made public because scientists are required to sign confidentiality clauses (Peterson).

There is a clear lack of research regarding the negative effects that the drugs have on the animals, the environment and also consumer health. Big Pharma refuses to bankroll studies that would highlight the health repercussions of such practices. This type of research is left to the whim and financial ability of the public, animal scientists and other interested parties (Peterson).

FDA’s Inadequate Regulation

The FDA and Big Pharma have always had a chummy rapport, as shown by the revolving door between the two entities and the existence of user fees. The FDA has also been sued for withholding records, on behalf of Big Pharma, pertaining to the safety of ractopamine, a drug that makes animals more muscular.

In 2013, the FDA proposed a plan to curb the use of drugs within the industry to avoid antibiotic resistance (Kar). The following three reason illustrate how the guidance was an empty gesture to confront the issue:

  1. Its voluntary meaning it only asks pharmaceutical companies to stop selling drugs for the purpose of animal growth (Kar).
  2. Allows for the use of drugs to prevent diseases. It just so happens that these same drugs speed up growth (Kar).
  3. Its effectiveness will be measure after three years and then the FDA will decide if stricter regulation is needed (Kar).

Work Cited

Kar, Avinash. “FDA announces finalization of voluntary guidance on antibiotic misuse in livestock industry.” Avinash Kar’s Blog. Switchboard: Natural Resource Defense Council Staff Blog, 11 Dec. 2013. Web. Dec. 12 2015.

Newman, Jesse. “Suit Challenging FDA Approval of Livestock-Feed products Dismissed.” Business. The Wall Street Journal, 9 Nov. 2015. Web. Dec. 13 2015.

Peterson, Melody. “As Beef Cattle Become Behemoths, Who Are Animal Scientists Serving?” Opinions & Ideas. The Chronicle Review, 15 Apr. 2012. Web. Dec. 12 2015.


Newman, Jesse. “Suit Challening FDA Approval of Lifestock-Feed Products Dismissed.” Buisness. The Wall Street Journal, 9 Nov. 2015. Web. 12 Dec. 2015.

“Prescription Drug User Fee Act (PDUFA).” User Fees. FDA: U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 3 Nov. 2015. Web. 13 Dec. 2015.

Wedler, Carey. “Obama’s New Appointee To Head The FDA Is A Big Pharma Mega-Lobbyist.” MintPress news, 19 Oct. 2015. Web. 12 Dec. 2015.

“USA Agriculture Colleges & Universities.” Stackyard: Agriculture on the Web, n.d. Web. 13 Dec. 2015.