Can American Farmers Kick the Drug Habit?
Since Denmark began its crusade, farmers haven't totally stopped using drugs, but they've cut way back, by almost two-thirds. Government researchers are studying the effects. Some farmers say their pigs tend to get sick more often, although it hasn't caused major problems, and studies show that chickens have to eat a tiny bit more food to gain the same amount of weight. They figure it costs two cents more now to raise each chicken, but the farmers are selling their chickens for two cents more, so they're making as much money as ever. Of course, the main reason Denmark went after drugs was to protect the public's health.
The latest government survey shows that most of the main kinds of bacteria on the farms the doctors worry about are already less resistant, which raises a question: Could American farmers kick the drug habit, too? Ask the government scientist who helped prod his country to change, Henrik Wegener.
Read the Danish government's latest report which examines how their crackdown on antibiotics is affecting use of the drugs on the farms.
"It is not rocket science," says Wegener. "If it can be done here, of course it can be done in the States. Whether they do it or the consumers do it for them, sooner or later they'll have to do it. And, of course, the advice they get may be 'Better not listen too much to those crazy Danes.' But I think they should try and listen to us. I think we've set a good example."
And the officials who run FDA now say they want to go after antibiotics again. And that brings us back to Cipro. Remember Mike Culbreath in Tennessee? Remember how he got a campylobacter infection and the best-selling Cipro didn't cure it? The FDA has started the long legal process to ban Cipro from American chicken farmers. And they say they may take on other best selling drugs next.
Meanwhile some food companies say they're not going to wait. McDonalds and other fast food chains recently announced that they won't serve chicken anymore that's been treated with Cipro. And a few big companies that raise chicken say they've decided to yank antibiotics off the farm, so consumers can feel safer. But there is no way yet to confirm if they've really done it.
Sidebar: How Taking Antibiotics Can Actually Make You More Sick
Daniel Zwerdling's Reporter's Notebook