Why did the chicken take the antibiotic? Not because she was sick, necessarily, but because some other birds in her beak-by-giblet poultry barn were sick. Which isn’t surprising, considering their less-than-sanitary living conditions.
Whenever a few birds show symptoms of respiratory infections, which they often do, it has long been common practice to just medicate the lot of them by putting an antibiotic such as Bayer’s Baytril into their water.
Except that, come Sept. 12, it will be illegal to give Baytril to chickens and turkeys raised in the United States. And not a moment too soon.
Because of the new ruling by the Food and Drug Administration, it will be less likely that you will get sick and, if you do get sick, the Baytril-like drugs that are given to people in your circumstance will stand a better chance of actually working.
It took five years for the FDA to act on the recommendation of its own animal health office. McDonald’s already told its suppliers to stop using the stuff. But finally the evidence that the overuse of Baytril in poultry was giving rise to a drug-resistant form of a particularly nasty bacteria was too great to ignore.
Here’s the Darwinian process that the FDA hopes to end:
Sick chickens, along with hundreds or thousands of healthy ones, are given Baytril. That kills most of the germs, particularly a nasty one called Campylobacter. Except some of the stronger Campylobacters survive and, having the field to themselves, thrive and reproduce prodigiously.
Some people who eat the chicken pick up the super Campylobacter and might get sick, sometimes very sick, with symptoms including nasty stomach problems, arthritis and bloodstream infections. The normal medicine for that, Cipro, is so chemically similar to Baytril that chances are high the Campylobacter in your system, or your child’s system, is immune.
So Baytril is out.
What’s disheartening about this ruling is that, while the FDA has removed from legal use a drug that really is used to cure sick animals, it still allows all kinds of healthy livestock to be given some other antibiotics in small, “sub-therapeutic” doses just because it supposedly makes them grow faster.
Maybe. But it makes certain kinds of bacteria grow faster, too.
It is time to end the practice of flooding livestock with antibiotics. We don’t need the meat that badly.