Roughly half of women experience at least one urinary-tract infection during their lifetimes. UTIs are a painful nuisance—but you take your antibiotics and cranberry supplements and get on with the day. Most of the time.
As recent studies have found, a growing number of UTIs are becoming resistant to standard antibiotics—and for this we may thank the poultry industry. According to an investigation by the Food and Environment Reporting Network and ABC News, the E. coli responsible for these UTIs is genetically similar to that found in your everyday chicken from the grocery store.
While improperly handling and undercooking chicken always poses a health threat, if the chicken is contaminated with the resistant strain of E. coli then all the worse. When UTIs can’t be cured by antibiotics, they have the potential to turn into life-threatening blood infections.
But let’s back up for a second—how did chicken end up with this nasty bug? The FDA estimates that 80% of antibiotics sold in the U.S. are given to chickens—including healthy chickens and un-born chickens. Those champions of farm-to-table ethos, who glamorize the consumption of “ethically-raised” meat, dairy, and eggs, might be surprised by the fact that “organic” chickens are routinely shot with antibiotics while they’re still in their eggs. Even the most idyllic-seeming farm conditions require livestock to be vaccinated against disease–not to mention factory farms, where chickens are housed in cramped, dark, unsanitary cages where they can’t move, turn around, or see the light of the day.
Since the E. coli aren’t completely killed the by the heavy doses of antibiotics, they’re given a chance to adapt to antibiotics and become resistant to them—including the ones humans take to kill them off during what feels like a routine UTI.
While public health advocates and concerned members of congress are trying to increase antibiotic regulations, fighting against the livestock and pharmaceutical industries is no small task.
If you are vegan or vegetarian, you’re already making a difference. The average American eats roughly 85 pounds of chicken yearly. You’re avoiding 85 pounds of potentially infected chicken from an industry you refuse to support. You can also help by talking to your non-veg friends and family members about the importance of choosing organic, free-range chicken over conventionally-produced poultry.
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Photo: Dano via Flickr