“The thing that wakes most people up is hearing that 70 percent of all antibiotics sold in this country go to healthy farm animals,” says Laura Rogers, project director of the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming. “They’re given low doses of them for most of their lives. It creates the perfect breeding ground for new strains of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.”

I called Rogers today to get an update on what the government is doing about this growing public health issue —which you can learn more about by reading “Is There MRSA In Your Meat?” in the September issue of Delicious Living. As the mom of two young kids who eat a lot of chicken, I am dismayed the vast majority of meat available to American families (with the exception of antibiotic-free and organic meat) contains unnecessary drugs that put our collective health at risk—so far with the FDA’s blessing!

The problem: Bacteria in chicken, hogs, and cows fed antibiotics can become resistant to those drugs, creating “superbugs” such as MRSA. People sickened by eating (or even just handling) the meat may not be cured by the usual drugs. “Once that bacteria gets into the environment, it’s very hard to put the genie back into the bottle,” says Rogers. “Bacteria are very cagey; they swap genes all the time like trading cards—they trade their resistance to different antibiotics, creating new resistant strains.”

The really scary part: There are very, very few new antibiotic drugs in the pipeline, says Rogers. “Maybe one or two, and once they’re introduced, they won’t be effective for long.” In fact, she says, doctors are loathe to use new antibiotics, because they don’t want quickly morphing bacteria to render them useless. “Evolution is against us: All factors contribute to our losing [effective] antibiotics,” she says. “And unlike other drugs, antibiotics truly are a community resource; they need to be protected.”

What you can do:
1) Visit antibioticsaction.com to send a message to the FDA asking them to curtail routine antibiotic use on industrial animal farms.
2) Call or email your representative to ask them to join Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and the 122 cosponsors of an antibiotics bill currently pending in the House.
3) Buy organic, grass-fed, and/or antibiotic-free beef whenever possible.
4) Talk with your doctor about avoiding taking antibiotics for bronchitis, pink eye, and other illnesses that generally don’t always necessitate them.
5) Wash your hands well and frequently!