Once social scientists and others worried that the world’s population would outstrip the ability to produce food, which would have meant there would be a natural cap on the number of people the planet could support.
Something quite different happened. Both population and food production have soared. There is plenty of food produced by agriculture to feed everyone. It just doesn’t get to all the hungry people – estimated at 870 million – for a variety of reasons, some technical and some political or economic.
Food production soared because of the development of new agricultural techniques, fertilizers, pesticides and even medicines for animals grown for food. While the volume of food produced is commendable, there are problems with some of the techniques. High on that list is the use of antibiotics in food for meat animals. The antibiotics enable farms to crowd animals together more without getting sick. Sometimes the antibiotics help the animals grow faster.
That’s good for producing high volumes of meat, but there is a serious consequence. The widespread use of antibiotics in farming makes the antibiotics less effective for humans to use treating diseases.
According to the San Jose Mercury, nearly 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in the United States are given to farm animals – healthy animals – as preventive medicine or to promote growth. This practice is considered to be a factor in the rise of antibiotic-resistant infections, which killed 23,000 people in 2014. The European Union banned using antibiotics in healthy animals 10 years ago, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration still permits the practice.
However, a growing number of consumers and the restaurants and retailers that serve them, are concerned enough to demand antibiotic-free meats. Wendy’s, Chipoltle, Panera and Chick-fil-A don’t serve chickens treated with antibiotics, and McDonald’s announced that it will phase out chickens treated with antibiotics in the next two years.
That’s a big step, since McDonald’s reportedly buys 3 percent of all the chicken in the country. We hope more restaurants and retailers follow the trend.
It won’t do anything for people in undeveloped nations that don’t have enough food, but the volume-at-any-cost food production style of the developed world hasn’t done much for them anyway.