- - Monday, December 3, 2018


Those looking to eat healthy over Thanksgiving weekend were treated to some unappetizing news: A nationwide warning to stay away from romaine lettuce. After authorities linked lettuce to a number of E. coli cases, they issued a dramatic “do not eat” proclamation.

Food safety is vital to all Americans, and we’ve made major strides. Consider that 100 years ago milk was one of the leading causes of food-borne illness. Today, after the widespread implementation of pasteurization, not so much.

While ensuring people don’t get sick from food is a vital function of government, it’s also subject matter for left-wing activists to scare people and threaten companies. A recent news story on the ABC affiliate WJLA provides an example of sloppy, biased and deceptive reporting that does just this.

The issue? Antibiotics.

Antibiotics are used in both human and animal medicine. They are substances that kill bacteria such as E. coli, but not viruses like the cold. On farms, veterinarians use antibiotics to treat sick animals or to prevent illness. If one animal gets sick, there’s no reason to wait until the whole herd catches the bug to take action.

But animal activists and radical environmentalists see antibiotics as a wedge issue to smear conventional agriculture. They want to ban farmers and veterinarians from using antibiotics, claiming they are overusing the medicine and creating bacteria resistant to antibiotics, which in turn threatens human health.

The story demonstrates the narrative. The segment featured a reporter having poultry from local supermarkets tested for bacteria. Some of the bacteria subsequently was found to be resistant to some antibiotics. A George Washington University professor filled in the gaps and gave the story “expert credibility.”

But as usual, the media committed the sin of omission.

Misuse of antibiotics in human medicine can also create resistance. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one-third of antibiotic prescriptions (for people) are unnecessary. This angle wasn’t addressed at all in the story despite being a critical element to the bigger picture.

Common-sense food handling can minimize the risk of getting sick. Cooking kills bacteria, and no one eats raw chicken. Yet this was given fleeting mention midway through a five-minute segment.

The professor, meanwhile, is an activist who has co-signed a letter with environmentalists asking KFC to restrict how its chicken suppliers use antibiotics. The news station did not disclose his activism.

Lisa Fletcher, the reporter, also has her own conflicts of interest. She’s married to the former head of a radical animal-welfare group. She and her husband are also outspoken vegans. Are we expected to believe she’ll give meat a fair shake? Ms. Fletcher’s previous gig was with Al Jazeera, a propaganda outlet based in Qatar, which should tell you all you need to know.

And perhaps most importantly, let’s consider the overarching claim that 23,000 deaths are attributed to antibiotic-resistant bacteria every year. If you dig deep, it doesn’t appear that farms have much to do with this.

According to the CDC, about half of the deaths attributed to antibiotic resistance come from MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus). But MRSA is tied to hospital settings. MRSA was first detected in 1961 in a hospital, and has typically been linked to hospitals, nursing homes and similar institutions, not farms. Some people even carry MRSA in their nose. But MRSA wasn’t tied to livestock until 2003 — a half century after it was found in a hospital.

Another quarter of the deaths attributed to antibiotic resistance are from a bacteria that causes pneumonia. Again, this bacteria is human-associated more than farm-associated.

It’s a good time to ask: Would the “solution” promoted by activists — banning veterinarians from using antibiotics to prevent disease in farm animals — prevent antibiotic resistance in human pathogens?

It’s hard to say. But we can say with certainly that such a move would cause great harm to the integrity of our food supply while ignoring the story of how irresponsible patient and medical use of drugs is driving the issue to dangerous levels. It’s already been reported that 2,000 tons of antibiotics are given to patients who don’t need them which drives much of the overuse and bug resistance problem; a story ABC ignored along with the glossed-over advice not to eat raw meat.

Banning veterinarians from using antibiotics to prevent disease will cause more animals to get sick and die. And cooking your food before you eat it will prevent most of what this entire fake news story ignored while trying to make a story rather than report one.

• Richard Berman is the president of Berman and Co., a public relations firm in Washington, D.C.

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