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Antibiotic users beware

CHICAGO -- The American meat industry is addicted to antibiotics. This dates to the late 1940s, when farmers discovered that antibiotics could do more than just cure disease. Antibiotics regularly mixed into feed could help animals avoid common i...

CHICAGO -- The American meat industry is addicted to antibiotics. This dates to the late 1940s, when farmers discovered that antibiotics could do more than just cure disease. Antibiotics regularly mixed into feed could help animals avoid common illnesses -- and thus, grow faster as well as better withstand the crowded and sometimes unsanitary conditions on factory farms.

Here's why that's a problem: Over time, bacteria develop a resistance to commonly used antibiotics. The overuse of antibiotics in animals grown for human consumption speeds the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria -- which can jump from animals to humans. So antibiotics we have long relied upon to kill those bugs become less effective and treatable diseases become more difficult to fight.

Congress is considering a bill that would phase out, over two years, the use of antibiotics in animal farming except for treating diseases.

The meat industry doesn't like this legislation. It warns that doing away with non-therapeutic antibiotics would hike the cost to food producers of raising animals for slaughter. It would take longer to fatten animals, so the cost of feeding them would go up.

Yes, but the cost of medicating them would go down.

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