It’s as if they’ve never heard of superbugs.
Last week, fast-food poultry giant KFC joined McDonald’s, Chipotle, Panera Bread, and 11 other major chains in promising not to serve poultry raised with antibiotics. The announcement came after years of pressure from consumers and advocacy groups concerned about the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Because of the move, by next year, more than half of the chicken we eat in the United States will likely be free of antibiotics.
That’s a big deal: As my colleague Tom Philpott has reported, nearly two-thirds of all the antibiotics in the United States go to agriculture. Antibiotic use in agriculture increased by 22 percent from 2009 to 2014. The rampant overuse on farms means that bacteria adapt, become resistant, and can breed superbugs that pose a global threat to human health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called antibiotic resistance “one of the world’s most pressing health concerns.” Last fall, an elderly woman in Nevada was the first person to die of a strain of Klebsiella pneumoniae that resisted “all available antimicrobial drugs.”
Now that chicken sellers are flocking away from antibiotics, advocacy groups have set their sights on another item on Americans’ dinner plates: pork. The Natural Resources Defense Council took the lead in putting pressure on the chicken industry for about three years—and the organization is now mobilizing to do the same with others. The campaign is timely: Late last year, researchers found bacteria on a hog farm in the United States that was resistant to carbapenems, antibiotics known as the “last line of defense.” A resistant strain of E. coli was found in pigs in China, where half the world’s hogs reside, the year before.