Your bacon or your life

You can choose your life over bacon. You can demand proper labeling, or stop eating the stuff. You can support local farmers -- many restaurants now support the growing locavore movement -- and go to stores that stock non-treated meat.

Can we have an adequate, cheap protein supply and protect ourselves from antibiotic-resistant bacteria? (Picture from blogger Perez Hilton.)

This is one of the biggest new questions raised in 2009, one science must answer in 2010.

Controversy has been increasing throughout the decade, with the World Health Organization sounding an alarm about antibiotic-resistance germs back in 2000.

The issue merely simmered until this year, when an FDA official named Joshua Sharfstein told a House committee the Administration "supports ending the use of antibiotics for growth and feed efficiency." This pleased House Rules chair Louise Slaughter, who had introduced legislation to do just that.

This sounded an alarm for the agriculture industry, which fired off a letter to the President's assistant for domestic policy saying we can't have both ample food and antibiotic-free food. After an intense lobbying campaign the FDA quietly backed away.

But the issue did not. Danish farmers quietly dropped antibiotic use 10 years ago, so European public health advocates now have an alternate source of supply.

An AP story datelined Frankenstein, Missouri covered some aspects of the issue this week, and policymakers continue to be stymied by the industry's lobbyists.

In the end the market and the industry itself will have to solve this problem. Export markets are starting to be closed off. This creates a narrowing window for the industry, and an opportunity for veterinary scientists.

Advocates would like the solution to be an end to industrial farming. But industrial farming is a natural market response to rising demand for cheap protein.

It's up to consumers to reject food raised on penicillin. Rather than pushing for an outright ban on the use of antibiotics, a fair compromise would be simple labeling, identifying meat that was treated in this way, so the market can work its will.

Industry will oppose such laws until foreign markets are lost, and then it will respond. That's the way the American system works.

You can choose your life over bacon. You can demand proper labeling, or stop eating the stuff. You can support local farmers -- many restaurants now support the growing locavore movement -- and go to stores that stock non-treated meat.

It's a process, a slow one. It needs to be sped up. How would you do so?

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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