Resistance To Antibiotic Resistance

» July 31st, 2014

In one sense, it’s hard to disagree with Ruth Reichl’s recent Times piece opposing antibiotics given prophylactically to livestock. All the bigwig food guys in the Twittersphere are acting as if the wheel has been reinvented by the article.

In reality, all Reichl says is what critics have been saying for decades: feeding antibiotics to animals creates resistant strains of bacteria. These bacteria can infect humans and make us very, very sick. So, yeah, that’s bad news, but, as the Smiths once put it, “stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before.”*

Things start to get strange, though, when Reichle advises consumers to channel their inner antibiotic outrage by supporting outlets that choose not to purchase meat raised with antibiotics. Yes, vote with your fork! But such outlets, as she notes, includes Chik-fil-A, a fast food chain that’s as wedded to factory farming as any corporation on the planet.

So while it is true that supporting Chick-fil-A because it’s taking the lead on the antibiotic issue might help end the use of prophylactic antibiotics, such a vote also further entrenches the power of factory farms, thus backfiring on the very cause it intended to promote: a healthier system of agriculture.

Opposing antibiotics is almost always done on the grounds of the dangers they pose to humans. But what about our domesticated non-human friends? What about those creatures that will become, as Reichl—the former Times restaurant critic whom I’m guessing has never spent more than three minutes thinking about animal rights—”a morsel of meat in our mouths”? I think it’s safe to say that consumer opposition to antibiotics means that more animals will get sick on factory farms, and that farmers will thereby have a disincentive to treat them with drugs that consumers don’t want, thus leading to more animal suffering.

Do you recognize the pattern? Consumers want to improve animal agriculture to make it better for humans by making the system appear to be more pure. In so doing, they establish the conditions for further animal suffering. Just like environmental organizations who lack the guts to promote the vegan option as a form of environmental activism, our leading food critics are equally bereft of integrity when they call for reforming animal agriculture without noting that the best option is to end it.

All over a bunch of morsels.

*The Pitchfork is well aware that it has been known to wax redundant every now and then.

7 Responses to Resistance To Antibiotic Resistance

  1. Karen Harris says:

    Yes, sadly the pattern is all too recognizable.
    The animals are caught up in a brutal system in which there is truly no way out, until as you say, it is ended.
    Prophylactic use of antibiotics also apparently causes animals to gain weight more quickly, again adding to their suffering. They lose no matter what.
    Reichl’s support of a heinous industry and utter lack of regard for animal suffering – for her it is truly not an issue- is again, all too familiar.
    The obvious solution to all of the ills of the meat industry – which is to stop eating the stuff!! – is not even considered.
    What else is new?

  2. Rebecca Allen says:

    You’re right, everything gets more attention when it appears it might effect humans. But, can one have factory farms without antibiotics. I think people assume that, organic animal farms, or no antibiotics, means the animals are kept well enough not to need antibiotics. I do not know that that is true. It might be.

    So, I am not sure I understand when you say, “I think it’s safe to say that consumer opposition to antibiotics means that more animals will get sick on factory farms, and that farmers will thereby have a disincentive to treat them with drugs that consumers don’t want, thus leading to more animal suffering.”

    Is it they will go to those places and eat the non-factory farmed foods, too or that the antibiotic meats can come from large factory farms?

    I recently read parts of the FAO’s World Livestock 2013: Changing Disease Landscape. It talks about the fact that as we continue our encroaching into wilderness, we are getting more and more diseases- the perspective is in terms of humans again, in fact, 70% of human diseases originate from animals.(pg 10)

    But, I digress and want to say I agree with you. It is very sad for the non-human animals.

    “Custom will reconcile people to any atrocity.” George B. Shaw

  3. ARC says:

    To my knowledge Ruth Reichl is a committed carnivore; the issue of animal rights or welfare has certainly never crossed her mind. I am not sure there is any reason to engage with her.

    Later in the article you cite she writes:

    “Food should be delicious. It should also be good for you. We shouldn’t have to worry that we’re endangering our health each time we put a morsel of meat into our mouths”.

    She is perhaps our most pathologically solipsistic writer on food: it is all about her (and her kind). Nothing exists for her beyond the crudest gratification of craving, the hit of of foodstuffs meeting taste buds and palate; not the living, feeling animal her meat once was, not the farm worker, not the fast food worker nor restaurant server, all of whom intermittently (as often as his ethical ADD will allow) enter (fitfully) her colleague Mark Bittman’s mind.

    Actually food “should be” life sustaining; if it tastes really good (and hunger is the best sauce) that is a pleasant bonus. It should also be sustainable of the planet and compassionate toward other humans and fellow non-human sentients: meat, it goes without saying, satisfies none of those criteria.
    By the way one of the chief motivations for the routine use of antibiotics in animal agriculture is the need to counteract the disastrously insalubrious conditions in which the animals are raised (standing in their own feces, overcrowded, stressed psychologically). I am sure that those conditions can be ameliorated at a price: an increase in cost of production. Don’t count however on the Chinese WH Group Ltd. that recently purchased Smithfield, the world’s largest supplier of pork products, to adhere faithfully to such restrictions, even if they were to agree formally to them.

    • unethical_vegan says:

      A carnivore?


      The dehumanization of potential vegans by fundamentalists is so incredibly harmful to the animal welfare/rights movement. It’s like eating your own.

  4. Karen Harris says:

    One further reflection.
    By recycling old concepts as NEW – in this case, that the overuse of antibiotics is bad – the conventional media (“liberal” or otherwise) preserves the status quo. Everyone drinks at the same trough and benefits – the animals exempted of course.
    Important that blogs, such as this, are a reminder that there are lots of people who see and think differently.
    Nice not to be so alone!

  5. Amy Trakinski says:

    On whether Ruth Reichl has spent any time thinking about animal rights, interestingly, Gourmet Magazine, under Reichl’s executive editorship, ran David Foster Wallace’s, Consider the Lobster (“Is it all right to boil a sentient creature alive just for our gustatory pleasure?”). I haven’t listened but for those interested she talks about the experience here:

    • Ellen K says:

      Thanks for this audio clip, in which she explains that she fought to remove footnotes referencing PETA. I’m a big fan of DFW non-fiction and that article was a key catalyst in my own vegan shift. Yes, Ruth ran the piece but another one of the editing arguments she evidently won was removing the essay’s powerful second-to-last line (it’s in the book, but not the magazine): “… about what the adjective in a phrase like ‘The Magazine of Good Living’ is really supposed to mean….”

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