During a virtual event co-hosted by Food Tank and Applegate, panelists highlight the need to end the misuse of antibiotics in the livestock industry.
By 2050, public health experts predict that 10 million people will die of antibiotic-resistant infections—surpassing deaths from cancer. By preventatively treating animals with antibiotics, the food system is contributing to this alarming trend. But public health experts, chefs, and businesses are advocating for change to reduce the misuse of antibiotics and protect public health.
Panelists discuss the barriers to changing the livestock industry, and the progress that gives them hope. Conversations were moderated by journalist Jane Black and Food Tank President Danielle Nierenberg.
John Ghingo, President of Applegate, explains that antibiotics are a “precious resource” that are threatened by their misuse. And while he believes that the rise of antibiotics sales in the United States is concerning, he says there is still time for consumers to learn about production practices and demand change.
“That little bit of digging will help you make much more informed choices that are better for you, for your family, for your kitchen table, but also for the planet and the animals in the system,” Ghingo tells Food Tank.
Black spoke with Dr. Lance Price, Professor at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health and Director of the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center; Dr. Ramamanan Laxminarayan, Founder and Director of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy (CDDEP); and Ron Mardesen, Owner of A-Frame Acres and a farmer for Niman Ranch.
Price explains that while antibiotic use has plummeted in the chicken industry, many farmers in the turkey, cattle, and hog industries are still heavily reliant on these medicines.
“We’re using antibiotics to prop up broken systems in animal agriculture,” Price says. But he and Laxminarayan argue that it is possible to move away from antibiotics and support a healthier livestock industry than the one that predominates in the U.S.
Drawing from his own experience, Mardesen agrees. As a farmer, he chooses to raise his hogs without antibiotics, a decision he describes as rewarding. “You get to see these animals exhibit natural behaviors,” he says.
During the next panel discussion, Black spoke with Laxminarayan; Lena Brook, Director of Food Campaigns for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC); and Joel Gindo, Owner of Free Happy Farm and a farmer with Niman Ranch.
Like Mardesen, Gindo also raises his animals without antibiotics. By focusing on animal health, he sees little need for them. He also explains that an increasing number of his customers do not want meat from animals treated with antibiotics.
Laxminarayan believes that this change in consumer preference, which is influenced by advocacy groups educating eaters on the issue of antibiotic use, is key. “Building awareness has really [contributed to] that shift,” he says.
Brook also believes that change at the policy level is essential. NRDC is calling on the Biden Administration to do three things: track data on antibiotic use, prohibit the routine use of medically important antibiotics, and set national targets for reducing antibiotic use in livestock.
“We’ve seen a lot of shifts in the chicken industry,” Brook says. “Now we need to take that success and translate it to pigs and hogs.”
Nierenberg spoke with chef and entrepreneur Tiffany Derry. Derry argues that chefs are important advocates in the food system, who can help consumers understand the threat of antibiotic resistance.
“When you know that antibiotics are going into animals and that can affect us,” Derry tells Food Tank, “everyone should be paying attention.”