Everyone eats and that’s probably why interest in food issues comes from all quarters—people concerned about hunger, environmental impact, public health, access to food, fair conditions, and wages for food workers.
The use of antibiotics in animal food production has long been a bone of contention.
About 30 million pounds of antibiotics a year are used in animal food production. About 80 percent are used routinely, in steady low doses, said Lance Price, professor of environmental and occupational health at George Washington University. In real time, this can happen very quickly—a single E.coli cell can multiply into more than a billion in 24 hours.
“When I see these factory farm operations, I don’t see factories making meat. I see them making trillions and trillions and trillions of drug-resistant bacteria,” Price said. He was speaking at a TEDxManhattan conference in Manhattan last Saturday, Changing the Way We Eat.
The antibiotic resistance makes its way into the meat and grocery stores, and to humans. Every year, 23,000 Americans die of infections due to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, said Price.
The misuse of antibiotics is an alarm bell that was rung decades before in 1945 by Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin.
“Rather than change production, we’re just using antibiotics,” said Price. “Context is critical. You have to look at how you’re producing animals.”
Problems were articulated, but so were alternatives and solutions.
The topic of meat alone was the focus of a handful of talks, giving rise to ideas about alternative
sources of protein, such as crickets, turned into flour for baked goods.
“Crickets … the gateway bug,” quipped Ken Cook, Environmental Working Group president.
Or, going meatless on Mondays, a day, which apparently is more productive for behavioral change than any other day of the week.
Scoring Elected Officials
You know when a movement has gathered clout when it can sway voters to keep or oust an elected official based on a single issue. It remains to be seen whether food issues can
spur voters in this way.
Chef Tom Colicchio, the last speaker at the conference, introduced the organization Food Policy Action, which seeks to mobilize voters and keep officials accountable on a wide range of food and farming policies through a National Food Policy Scorecard.
He urged for a larger constituency to work together.
“I’m sure if I asked who cares about labeling GMOs in this room, and who cares about getting rid of antibiotics out of our food system, and who cares about great food in school lunch, and who cares about local food systems, who cares about ending hunger, we’d probably all raise our hands to every single one of those,” he said.
Hunger advocates lost out in the last farm bill while food advocates made small gains, he said. “And we didn’t have to do that, if we’d stuck together. … We didn’t need to make that Faustian bargain between good food policy and hunger.”