Senators Ted Kennedy (D., Mass) and Olympia Snowe (R., Maine) must have read The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, because he recently introduced a bill to limit the use of antibiotics in chicken, beef, sheep and pork farms. According to the book, modern industrial cattle farms force the cows to eat something they normally wouldn’t touch — corn. As a result, cows are prone to acquire all kinds of illnesses that normally wouldn’t be an issue, and so industrial farmers feed their animals large doses of antibiotics to keep infections down, even if a particular head of cattle isn’t showing any signs of needing them. Critics claim that this abuse of antibiotics contributes to increased antibiotics in humans. In the book, an industry insider flat-out admitted that if government were ever to step in and ban the use of antibiotics in farm animals, all of the modern industrial farming practices that have been in vogue for the last 30 to 50 years would cease to be profitable, and farmers would have to go back to raising livestock the old-fashioned, but more natural (and humane) way. This would have an impact on consumers at the check-out, doubling the cost of beef.
Other benefits of doing away with the modern industrial farm practices include making the food supply safer from e-coli contamination, and less risk of bovine spongiform encephalitis, aka “mad cow” disease.
Interestingly, corn farmers probably won’t be too upset about the passage of this bill, since the US government pays them a certain amount of money for a bushel of corn, regardless of market prices or demand. You can expect big opposition bill from industrial agrifarm giants like ADM and Tyson’s Food, though. Until the bill’s passage, you should probably stick to only buying meat with the green “USDA Organic” seal.