Saturday, April 5, 2014

Event Review: "Healthy Farms = Healthy People"

Food and Water Watch "Healthy Farms, Healthy Families Town Hall Forum" on April 3rd at the First Unitarian Church of Providence

Healthy Farms = Healthy People
by Charlotte Hacke

Let's say you're sick. You've got bronchitis. So you go to the doctor, s/he gives you a small dose antibiotics, and there ya go, problem solved. Until next time comes around. You've got bronchitis again. You get some antibiotics again, etc.
You find yourself having to go again. And the doctor gives you just a little bit again. Slowly, your body builds immunity to these antibiotics. What to do now?

These small doses spread out over a period of time are called "subtherapeutic" doses, and they are a fraction of the amounts most often used to treat an infection. Knowing that organisms build up resistance to the antibiotic through this method though seems like we would avoid it, right? Wrong. It's a current (very common) practice in factory farming. In fact, 80% of all antibiotics in the US are for the sole use of factory farming. And there are no regulations to encourage this number to go down; farmers can just purchase as many antibiotics online or in a farm supply store as they want. 

These farmers aren't just evil, stupid people drugging their animals with small amounts of antibiotics for fun, though. There is actually a reason for it: let's say you have 1,000 chickens in a feeding house, and one gets sick because of poor air quality (poor lil chicks are prone to respiratory problems). As a farmer or non-existent veterinarian on-site, you're not going to waste you time listening to the heartbeat of every chicken, finding out which one is the root cause of the now-spreading illness. No, that'd be a waste of time and money. So, you put just a lil' bit of some antibiotics in the feed, to avoid/treat that infection, and yet not harm any of the healthy chickens. Makes sense. 

But it's catching up with us. Not only are animals then becoming more resistant to medications, humans are too. If we don't act now, we won't be able to treat simple infections that could be cured with one full dose of antibiotics; instead we will, most simply put, die. As I write that, it seems almost comical, but many babies born prematurely are saved at birth because of antibiotics, for instance, and if we keep eating antibiotics in our food, our immunity will quite literally kill our babies. 

I asked the panelists if we should then be focusing on creating environments where animals don't find themselves threatened by illness looming in the air, because of close and crammed quarters. Well, yes, they said. And there are some people doing this; for example, groups of people are incentivizing farmers to raise chickens in open areas, without the use of constant antibiotics, by proposing bigger bucks for a better business/quality product. That's just one example. 

Another way this issue is being tackled is through policy. "This spring, Providence became one of the first cities in the country to pass a resolution calling for a ban on factory farm abuse of antibiotics!" YEAH PROVIDENCE! However, federal action is much needed in this "public health issue." To motivate more discussion on the topic, there was a panel held last night (April 3, 2014) by Food & Water Watch RI.

It was a whopping success! About fifty people (community members, students, farmers, etc.) showed up to hear more. Panelists included: Dr. Louis Rice, Chair, Brown University Department of Medicine; Dr. Leonard Mermel, Medical Director, Dept. of Epidemiology & Infection Control, Rhode Island Hospital; Pat McNiff, Farmer, owner of Pat's Pastured free range farms; Rachel McNally, PEW Research "Supermom against Superbugs", as well as a representative from Senator Whitehouse, sending his support. 

Further action needs to be taken and we have the power to say no through grassroots movement. Email Gus Fuguitt with Food & Water Watch at if you want to get more involved! (There's an activist 
training on April 10th, so get on it soon!)

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