Antibiotics have saved countless lives since their introduction in the early 1900s, but in the past decade, they've transformed from a medical godsend into a serious medical threat.
That problem? Antibiotic resistance. Every year, antibiotic-resistant "superbugs" sicken 2 million people, and kill 23,000 of them. And finally, the issue has become dire enough for the White House to step in and call for change.
On Tuesday, the Obama administration called on restaurant chains, hospitals, and large-scale farms to curb their use—or overuse—of antibiotics. To show the government means business, the White House made a few changes of its own—for one thing, federal cafeterias will stop serving meat raised using antibiotics. (Though it will take five years for this to actually implement fully.)
Several hospitals also agreed to follow the CDC's strict guidelines for prescribing antibiotics, while the FDA finalized new measures for veterinarians to follow when prescribing antibiotics to livestock.
On the commercial side, large food companies are already getting the message that consumers will support business that serve antibiotic-free meat. Tyson and Foster Farms have already pledged to eliminate the use of human antibiotics in their poultry, and several fast-food giants including McDonald’s and Chick-Fil-A have also said they plan to take antibiotics off the menu.
In 2009 alone, 29.9 million pounds of these drugs were used in U.S. livestock production. But as the demand for antibiotic-free meat grows, and more large corporations join the fight, it's likely more producers will eschew the drugs in order to keep their customers happy.
You can do your part by shopping for antibiotic-free meat whenever possible. As the demand grows for healthy food, more companies will join the likes of Tyson, McDonald's, and the U.S. government, and learn to "just say no."
Photo credit: Will-travel via Flickr