There are potentially lethal strains of bacteria, traced to antibiotics produced by pharmaceutical corporation Bayer, present in pork, beef, and poultry. The German company's highly profitable products are also reported to encourage increasingly inhumane factory farming conditions.
Livestock on factory farms are regularly given antibiotics, said a report by Salon. It makes them gain weight on less feed, and reduces their chances of getting sick in confined quarters. But the use of these antibiotics also results in potentially dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria - super bugs - which have been detected in meats.
Bayer is the fourth largest veterinary medicines company in the world. In 2010, they achieved a turnover of around $217 million for the animal antibiotic Baytril.
Baytril injections for livestock are highly common. The drug's purpose is to treat infectious diseases in poultry (including turkey), cattle (including calves) and pigs. Its side effect is that its use the rearing of animals destined for human consumption makes human antibiotics increasingly ineffective, as noted by the European Food Safety Authority. The World Health Organization has also outlined the trouble with such antibiotics, and has demanded a ban on their large-scale use in animal rearing.
Last month, researchers found that 230 out of 395 pork cuts sold in grocery stores in the U.S. were tainted with a super bug called MRSA. Ironically, at around the same time, the FDA put a stopper on its thirty-year-long effort to curb the use of human antibiotics penicillin and tetracycline in livestock.
In addition to complicity in the development of serious health risks, Bayer is also partially guilty of encouraging the continuous substandard living conditions of livestock.
Philipp Mimkes of the activist group, Coalition Against Bayer Dangers, remarked, "Keeping thousands of animals in a cramped space would not be possible without the products of Bayer & Co. Bayer benefits from the disastrous conditions in factory farming where new diseases emerge constantly, thus bearing partial responsibility for the emergence of antibiotic-resistant strains."
In response, the CBG has proposed a series of goals to lessen the corporation's grip on farms. These include:
- Banning factory farming altogether, thus defeating the need for excessive use of antibiotics in the first place.
- Banning the routine dispensation of antibiotics in animal feed.
- Regularly and carefully documenting all use of antibiotics in the farmyard.
- Banning the routine use of antibiotics on entire herds.
CBG claims that Bayer has a history of carelessness that has had serious consequences. A decade ago, Bayer admitted it had known beforehand that it sold HIV-tainted blood clotting products, which infected thousands of hemophiliacs. And last year, one of its leading products, the anti-cholesterol drug Baycol, was linked to over 100 deaths.
On the corporate lobbying front, Bayer helped set up the Transatlantic Business Dialogue, a process where European and U.S. multinationals attempt to influence policy towards deregulation. Bayer is also part of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, which tries to promote the idea that the solutions to problems like climate change belong in the hands of multinational corporations.
Back in 2007, the late Sen. Ted Kennedy stated in response to the troublesome use of antibiotics in factory farming: "It seems scarcely believable that these precious medications could be fed by the ton to chickens and pigs." Kennedy was working to support the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act - legislation that has still not been passed.
"These precious drugs aren't even used to treat sick animals," he concluded. "They are used to fatten pigs and speed the growth of chickens. The result of this rampant overuse is clear: meat contaminated with bacteria sits on supermarket shelves all over America."
Photo: A pregnant female pig kept in a metal crate. The Humane Society of the United States/AP