Health: Another reason to go organic

By Stephanie Vilendrer

This weekend I discovered another reason to buy organic. If you aren’t already convinced that pesticides, artificial additives and possible genetic modification are reasons enough to avoid conventionally produced foods, perhaps this will convince you otherwise: antibiotics that are present in many non-organic food products contribute to antibiotic-resistant infections, which are some of the most difficult to treat common infections. The World Health Organization has suggested that we may be entering into a post-antibiotic era in which the treatments that used to be effective for illnesses such as staph infections, salmonella, E. coli, and hospital-acquired infections will no longer be effective. After tapping into the primary research and reading dozens of articles this past weekend, I’m convinced that animal husbandry is a major culprit in the antibiotic resistance problem. Animal husbandry is a multi-billion dollar industry in the U.S. and provides jobs for two million Americans. The discovery in the 1950s that routinely feeding antibiotics to farm animals increases their size promised increased operational efficiency led to the practice quickly catching on among meat producers. Today, the use of antibiotics in animal husbandry for non-therapeutic purposes is estimated to be eight times more common than use for disease treatment. The utility of non-therapeutic antibiotic use extends beyond growth promotion; meat production facilities are of industrial-scale proportions, and crowded livestock are at increased risk for disease through close contact with other animals and poor sanitation. Application of antibiotics to animal feeds is a convenient means by which to help prevent and control disease outbreaks. However, it wasn’t discovered until the mid-1980s that this practice has considerable impacts on human health. Continually feeding low doses of antibiotics to animals selects for those bacterial strains that are most resistant. The result is that these “superbugs” flourish in livestock populations and ultimately jump from animals to humans. One of the most significant ways this can occur is through consumption of antibiotic-infected animal products. Studies have shown that dairy, meat and farmed fish can be contaminated with resistant bacteria. The same resistant bacteria found in farm animals from which food products came were also identified in those individuals who ate the products. Even if you are a vegetarian, you may still be at risk. Research suggests that resistant bacteria may be acquired by consuming contaminated produce when antibiotic-containing manure or water runoff impacts agriculture fields—a pretty gross thought! The Food and Drug Administration, which is the agency in charge of regulating food safety in the U.S., has imposed sparse regulatory measures on antibiotic use in farm animals. Antibiotics are considered to be safe if the producer claims they are, and animal producers themselves are encouraged to use antibiotics sparingly. Yet without strict regulations, we are most likely exposing our bodies to antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the foods that we eat every day. The only way to minimize your exposure is by consuming meats, eggs and dairy that are only organic. Plus, organic foods must be grown or produced without pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, genetically-modified organisms and growth hormones. These are additional incentives to go organic! It’s important to remember that our bodies harbor all sorts of bacteria that could make us sick but are normally held in check by our immune systems. Constant interaction with other “healthy” bacteria is another reason why we don’t automatically get sick upon bacterial exposure. These are just two reasons that it’s so important to maintain a strong immune system and healthy gut flora by eating a diet that emphasizes real foods: leafy greens, vegetables and fruits, quality protein and fat sources and fermented foods. Although we may not always immediately become sick from exposure to antibiotic-resisting bacteria, it’s important to remember that anything that depresses your immunity or healthy stomach flora may tip the scales just enough that these bacteria create an infection that is highly difficult to treat. Choosing foods that are organic will minimize your exposure to antibioticresisting bacteria and optimize your health in the long run. refresh –>