Column, 292 words

Agribusiness Profits, Mutant Germs, and Us

America has overdosed on antibiotics.

Jim Hightower

America is under assault. From coast to coast, we are being invaded by horrific, body-consuming mutants that are already destroying 65,000 American lives a year. As a Duke University scientist puts it, “This is a living, breathing problem. It’s here. It has arrived.”

These aren’t invaders from Mars, but from within our own countryside. Ironically, these are mutants of our own creation, leaving America face to face with a spreading plague of drug-resistant germs.

For decades, we have benefited enormously from the healing wonders of antibiotics. These drugs save millions of lives that would otherwise be lost to microbial infections. But more and more of the antibiotics in America’s medical kit are proving to be ineffective against the plethora of germs that endanger us. Why? Too much of a good thing.

America has overdosed on antibiotics, using about 35 million pounds a year—so much that germs, which are savvy survivors, have rapidly been mutating to develop resistance to the drugs. Thus, drug-resistant microbes now kill more Americans than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.

Why have we overdosed so badly? Because the bulk of the drugs used in our country don’t go to protect humans, but to protect the profits of agribusiness corporations. Seventy percent of antibiotics go to chickens, cows, and pigs—either as stimulants to force the animals to grow faster or to fight rampant infections largely caused by unsanitary, factory-farm practices.

This senseless profiteering at the expense of our health is insane, and there’s a push in Congress to stop it. But lobbyists for Dow Chemical, Eli Lilly, Monsanto, Pfizer, and others are out to kill any reform… and to let the germs keep killing us. To support common sense, visit www.saveantibiotics.org.

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Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, public speaker, and the 2009 winner of the Nation/Puffin Prize. He's also editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown.