If you haven’t read Maryn McKenna’s excellent piece on antibiotic resistance, you should. Before I get to a point about agriculture, I just want to point out this bit from McKenna’s article:
At UCLA, Spellberg treated a woman with what appeared to be an everyday urinary-tract infection — except that it was not quelled by the first round of antibiotics, or the second. By the time he saw her, she was in septic shock, and the infection had destroyed the bones in her spine. A last-ditch course of the only remaining antibiotic saved her life, but she lost the use of her legs. “This is what we’re in danger of,” he says. “People who are living normal lives who develop almost untreatable infections.”
I’m glad to see this raised, as I’ve discussed before:
I have this sinking feeling that, as is usually the case with antibiotic resistance, we are simply cataloging the apocalypse. Leaving aside the dire and legitimate concerns of untreatable life-threatening infections, CREs include E. coli and Klebsiella, the two most common urinary tract infection organisms. Do you want to live in a world where a (hopefully) small percentage of UTIs can’t be treated?
But I digress. Onto agriculture. This is something I’ve never understood (boldface mine):
But if the loss of antibiotics change how livestock are raised, then farmers might be the ones to suffer. Other methods for protecting animals from disease—enlarging barns, cutting down on crowding, and delaying weaning so that immune systems have more time to develop—would be expensive to implement, and agriculture’s profit margins are already thin. In 2002, economists for the National Pork Producers Council estimated that removing antibiotics from hog raising would force farmers to spend $4.50 more per pig, a cost that would be passed on to consumers.
Searching the internets, I’m finding that a 300 lb pig yields about 150 lbs of ‘hanging weight’–stuff you can eat. So let’s be extremely conservative and say that a pig only yields 100 lbs of meat. We’re talking about a price increase of four and a half cents per pound. Just for arguments sake, let’s say the cost of not treating has risen to nine dollars per piggy. For some perspective, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that pork chops in urban areas average $3.58/lb and other pork products are $2.60/lb.
So how is possibly preserving the power of antibiotics not worth nine cents a pound? We’re talking about an increase comparable to the state-to-state differences in the sales tax. Yes, I know some people think the role of agriculture is overblown, but at a price increase in the neighborhood of a few percent, why are we even debating this issue? Just pass the price on to consumers already.