From “battery” cages in egg production to excessive antibiotics, food activists are fighting some of the worst “factory farm” practices. California’s Proposition 2, for example, outlawed caged (“battery”) egg production as of 2015. “Just because they are certain to end up on a dinner plate or in a barn producing eggs…doesn't obviate the need to treat them humanely during their short lives,” read a Prop. 2 LA Times editorial about chickens.
But Big Food is fighting back. Out of state battery egg producers who sold eggs to California that are no longer legal brought suit against Prop 2. When the FDA tried to ban cephalosporin antibiotics, the egg, chicken, turkey, dairy, pork and cattle industries stormed Capitol Hill and won. And now, Big Food is claiming that “aviary”egg systems that replace battery systems are worse—and that antibiotics in egg production are just fine.
Antibiotics Are “Green” Say Factory Farmers
As AlterNet has reported, more than 70 percent of medically important antibiotics are not used in people but in livestock. They are given to make animals grow faster—less feed is required—and to compensate for overcrowded, unsanitary factory farm conditions, not to treat sick animals. While Big Food and Big Pharma deny it, such routine ag use causes antibiotic resistant bacteria according to every leading medical organization. “Superbugs”antibiotic resistant bacteria"hospitalize two million a year in the U.S. and kill 23,000 according to the CDC.
But wrestling antibiotics out of factory farmers’ hands has been a difficult prospect because they represent huge profits to Big Food and Big Pharma. For example, it took the FDA ten years to get Bayer to quit using dangerous fluoroquinolones in poultry water. And when the FDA tried to ban cephalosporins in 2008, Big Food said it couldn’t “farm” without them.
Now, even though almost all major U.S. poultry producers have pledged to reduce or eliminate antibiotics because of consumer opposition, Sanderson Farms, the country’s third largest poultry producer, says they are just fine. Not only are ag antibiotics not responsible for antibiotic resistant bacteria, says Sanderson, they are downright green and the poultry giant will not eliminate them despite marketing pressure. “We have decided we’re not going to sacrifice our environmental goals, our animal welfare goals or our food safety goals for marketing purposes,” says a new pro-antibiotic ad campaign from Sanderson.
How do antibiotics further Sanderson environmental goals? Without them “we would need more corn, more water, more soybean meal, more housing, more electricity,” because animals couldn’t be crowded together said Lampkin Butts, the Sanderson president and chief operating officer. How do antibiotics further Sanderson animal welfare goals? Without the drugs keeping chickens alive, more would die says Butts.