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Editorial: Let's have a big round of clucking for reduced antibiotics in livestock

Tyson Foods is the latest company to announce it is cutting back on antibiotics in livestock. It plans to eliminate the use of human antibiotics by September 2017 in its broiler chickens. File photo by April L. Brown, AP.

Forgive us for being unimpressed with Chipotle’s announcement last week that GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, no longer will make the cut at its restaurants. Science doesn’t back up worries about GMOs but, hey, the marketing of the ban is good for the sale of a burrito bowl.

A more significant announcement came last week from Tyson Foods Inc., which said it plans to eliminate the use of human antibiotics by September 2017 from its broiler chickens. Earlier last month, Pilgrim’s Pride announced plans to get rid of antibiotics from 25 percent of its chickens by 2019.


What we see are more dominos falling in a long and worthy fight against the overuse of antibiotics in animals, an overuse that has contributed to the emergence of deadly antibiotic-resistant bacteria in humans.

Chipotle has been a leader on this front, and for that we say gracias to the Mexican grill restaurant. The company’s move away from animals treated with antibiotics as sources for beef, pork and chicken began more than 10 years ago.

In March, fast-food giant McDonald’s, which is struggling to satisfy more health-conscious millenials, made its move, deciding to eliminate antibiotics important to human medicine from its chickens. By then, Panera, Chick-fil-A and Perdue Farms already had joined the movement. Nevertheless, when the industry leader signs up for a cause, it creates a rush for others to follow.

Frankly, kudos all around, but this is overdue. Too often antibiotics have been used to fatten livestock — and bottom lines. Between too much reliance by humans on antibiotics for the unnecessary treatment of annoying flu and colds and their widespread use in livestock, we have been introduced to acronyms for truly alarming, scientifically proven superbugs such as MRSA infections. That stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.

The number of casualties from superbugs is worth repeating: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2 million people are afflicted with antibiotic-resisted infections each year, and for about 23,000 the infections are fatal.

Throw around a thorny buzzword and you’re bound to sound alarms. GMO is the latest to freak some people out, thanks in part to Chipotle. Let’s remember, those fears are unfounded. MRSA and superbugs, on the other hand, are very real dangers.

While doctors can be more cautious about prescribing antibiotics needlessly and patients can think twice about asking for them, the agricultural sector must do its part, too. And big corporations must continue to take the lead. Can you hear us, Wendy’s and Burger King?