Today’s U.S. Factory Farms

Rampant overuse of antibiotics is increasing the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

by Dr. Susan Blum, M.D.
posted on March 05th 2010

Modern industrial livestock operations are the best example of how rampant overuse of antibiotics is increasing the prevalence of antibiotic−resistant bacteria. 

These industrial farms have been mixing antibiotics into livestock feed since 1946, when various studies showed that low levels of antibiotics seemed to help animals grow faster and put on weight and thus increasing profits for meat producers. Chemical pesticides are often sprayed directly on to the skin of these animals to ward off parasites, insects, rodents and fungi. In addition, these animals are fed food treated with a multitude of other pesticides. 

These farms are ideal breeding grounds for germs and disease. Animals live in the most disgusting conditions, often standing or laying in their own filth, and are under constant stress. This inhibits their immune systems and makes them more prone to infection. Because of these conditions, about half of the antibiotics used by farms are mixed into the feed of healthy animals in order to prevent disease. 

Large livestock operations produce an enormous amount of waste, which contains intact and often undigested antibiotics, as well as antibiotic−resistant fecal coliforms. It is estimated that as much as 80−90% of all antibiotics given to humans and animals are not fully digested or broken down, and eventually pass through the body and enter the environment intact through waste. One widely used herbicide, glufosinate, whose residues have been found in the U.S. water and food supplies, causes hormonal, and brain damage. The Food and Drug Administration’s own Total Diet Study found that bacon had 48 different pesticide residues; bologna and some of the other luncheon meats had 102 different industrial pollutants and pesticides; fast food hamburgers had 113; and hot dogs had 82. The list goes on and on. In the United States about one billion pounds of pesticides are used each year on our food. 

So what’s happening to those folks that consume lots of this meat? Well. the most notable effect is the early onset of puberty in young girls which is now reaching epidemic proportions here in the U.S. Many scientists attribute this to all the hormones in our chicken, meat, milk and other dairy products that we feed our kids on a daily basis. Let us end on a sobering thought. Every time we consume factory−farmed chicken, beef, pork, veal, eggs or dairy, we are also consuming large amounts of antibiotics, pesticides, steroids, and hormones. 

So how can we avoid these and protect ourselves, our family, and our environment? 

First, organic meat, dairy, eggs, and poultry are guaranteed to be free of the use of antibiotics and hormones in the raising, feeding and slaughtering of livestock. These foods have become more widely available in all markets, most notably in WalMart since 2006. My recommendation to all my patients is to eat organic whenever possible, with organic dairy topping the list. Since the cow concentrates all the hormones, pesticides, and antibiotics they’ve been exposed to in their milk, it is not only important for hormone development in children but also for everything from cancer prevention to weight loss as these toxic chemicals can cause damage in the body. 

Another important reason to choose organic products is to put pressure on the factory farms to change their unacceptable practices. As demand increases for healthier organic alternatives, these farmers will be forced to make changes to remain competitive. 

To learn more about factory farming and other important agricultural issues in our country as it relates to the food we eat, I recommend The Omnivores Dilemma by Michael Pollan. His latest book, In Defense of Food is pretty great, too.

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