Resisting Antibiotics

As antibiotic-resistant infections rise, one S.F. politician fights for better consumer education.

The World Health Organization declared a “global health emergency” last month, following a report that disclosed the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance. Antibiotics are frequently overused on livestock at meat and poultry farms, and as humans ingest the chemicals through their hamburgers or chicken nuggets, a resistance to the drugs builds. The Centers for Disease Control has identified this as one of the top five health threats facing the United States, and the WHO believes the world is running out of antibiotics to fight new infections.

It’s a global catastrophe, but last week it was the talk of our local City Hall, as Sup. Jeff Sheehy announced new legislation that would require any retailers that sell raw meat in S.F. to report their suppliers’ use of antibiotics to the city’s Department of Environment — which would then be made public to consumers.

“Scientists, the CDC, and even the FDA [Federal Drug Administration] all agree that the overuse and misuse of antibiotics in food animals is creating a public health hazard,” Sheehy says. “Every year, 2 million people contract antibiotic-resistant infections, resulting in over 23,000 deaths. With this first-in-nation legislation, we can do our part to reduce these kinds of infections here in San Francisco and protect public health.”

The legislation only targets large grocery stores — such as Lucky, Safeway, and Whole Foods. According to the Examiner, around 122 shops in San Francisco would be affected. Smaller retailers, such as Haight Street Market, could choose to opt in or out of the program.

Political action on antibiotics in meat is not new: In 2015, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that deeply restricted the use of antibiotics in animals raised for meat and dairy in California. But those rules only affect livestock raised within state lines, and much of the meat sold in large-scale grocery stores comes from big ranches and farms in states with less-restrictive antibiotic policies.

Local environmental groups applaud the move.

“Consumers have a right to know what they’re putting in their bodies and bringing into their homes,” says Avinash Kar, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “With the rise of antibiotic-resistant infections, it’s critical that we use antibiotics less frequently so that they will be effective when our lives depend on it. This ordinance puts information into the hands of

San Franciscans so they know more about what they’re putting into their mouths.”

It can’t be denied that education is a key component to better health. But the idea of browsing the meat display at Trader Joe’s, and selecting a steak based on its antibiotic content is sure to dispel one’s appetite. If approved, this legislation may do PETA a favor, and cause a spike in vegans and vegetarians.

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