COMMENTARY: Food chains’ use of antibiotics in meat has consequences

Much of modern medicine is built on the foundation of antibiotics. Organ transplants and other major surgeries are much less risky when antibiotics are available to treat any infections that may arise during recovery. Cancer treatments that often reduce the effectiveness of an individual’s immune system would be significantly riskier or non existent without antibiotics. Antibiotics are relied on by much of the medical world, which is why it is hard to believe that antibiotics might one day stop working. 

Antibiotic resistance is a growing threat to our healthcare system. Thousands of people contract antibiotic-resistant infections each year. Yet, it is a threat that we can confront, as there are achievable solutions to this problem. One is technological innovation, but this is not guaranteed. Scientists and doctors could develop new treatments like when they created antibiotics, but that is an uncertain path. The more practical solution is reducing the overuse of antibiotics. The more bacteria are exposed to antibiotics, especially at low levels, the more likely they are to develop resistance to those antibiotics. These bacteria can then infect humans and other animals and become untreatable with the existing medicines. 

If antibiotics are the cornerstone to the medical world, how can their use be reduced? As ideal as it would be for all antibiotics to go where they are medically necessary, approximately 70 percent of the antibiotics sold in the United States go to factory farms. While this would not be a problem if they were going to be treating sick animals, often this is not the case. Many farms raise their animals with antibiotics consistently in their food or water. This allows bacteria to be exposed to antibiotics much more than they would be otherwise and creates a higher probability of antibiotic-resistant infections. 

To discourage these practices, restaurants should commit to stop supporting antibiotic overuse. KFC joined other major companies that have committed to serving their chicken without antibiotics. The chicken they serve in their restaurants throughout the country is raised on antibiotics regularly. Even though more than 90 percent of doctors are concerned about this practice, and a majority of consumers want the food industry to move away from this routine usage. KFC is one of the largest chicken retailers in the country, and the impact of this change would be massive. Their switch should have put even more pressure on farms to move away from routine antibiotic use, but despite this, big chains like Buffalo Wild Wings are still using meat with antibiotics.

It is not like this move would be unprecedented. Due to this impending threat, many restaurants have committed to switching to suppliers that do not overuse antibiotics. Places like Subway and Chipotle have committed to only serving meats that were raised without routine antibiotics. McDonald’s and similar places have committed to having all their chicken fit this requirement, as well. Earlier this year, Starbucks announced its own plans to phase out meats raised with routine antibiotics. But the chain did not specify a timeline for when and how long it would take for these changes to be implemented. Even Chick-fil-A, a restaurant with somewhat of a similar chicken focused menu to Buffalo Wild Wings, has committed to only serving chicken raised without routine antibiotics. Buffalo Wild Wings and other chain restaurants still using meat with antibiotics are simply lagging behind many of its peers on this issue. 

These chains that have not made the switch seem unaware that this issue is so important to many of its consumers. It has gone almost unacknowledged by the company, even while it faces public pressure from activist groups to change its policies. The unwillingness to change will eventually be harmful both to the companies themselves and the world these companies exist in. A corporation does not exist in a vacuum, and if these chains do not switch to suppliers that do not routinely use antibiotics, it could have significant and negative long term consequences. 

Rosemary Diaz is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore.


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