Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem that endangers many of the medical miracles we now take for granted. Antibiotics are effectively a scarce resource; we should be husbanding them to cure disease, not to make our steak 15 percent cheaper. That said, don’t think that this solves the problem. When I wrote a piece about antibiotic resistance for the Atlantic, I expected to get easy quotes from experts on the scurrilous waste of feeding penicillin to pigs. But none of the experts I talked to were willing to say that this was a huge part of the antibiotic-resistance problem. Most resistance isn’t evolving on farms, where very few of us spend any time; to be sure, we eat meat from those farms, but cooking should kill off most of the resistant bacteria. Most cases of antibiotic-resistant bacteria come from hospitals, people who have been in hospitals, or tuberculosis patients who stop taking their drugs as soon as they feel better.
Kent Sepkowitz makes related points:
Though admirable, the FDA’s action should not distract from the larger issue at hand: yes, we are giving too much antibiotic to pigs, but the real issue is that humans have been so piggish about prescribing and requesting and gobbling antibiotics—in hospitals and doctor’s offices and drive-through urgi-centers and through the mail. We are addicted as a nation not just to opiates but to antibiotics—and as with other addictions, sooner than later, the party always ends.
Maryn McKenna notes that the FDA’s announcement has no teeth: