Here's a regulatory move that I think everyone except industrial livestock farmers can applaud: the federal government is considering restricting the indiscriminate use of antibiotics in livestock.

But Megan, you will say, government regulation!  Nanny state!  Ecofreaks!


To me, restricting antibiotic use is a legitimate public health measure.  Antibiotics have been responsible for much of the increase in human lifespan over the last century, as well as dramatic improvements in the quality of our years.  But they have a real collective action problem:  the more they're used, the more bacteria resist them.

Cheap meat is not worth having your kid die of an antibiotic-resistant infection.  Farmers use these things indiscriminately because it allows them to pack the animals into filthy conditions that would otherwise make the animals very, very sick.

Obviously, for someone like me who is basically opposed to factory farming, the tradeoff seems even less compelling than for someone who likes to pack in a Tyson's chicken every other day.  But even if you're a big fan of treating animals like widgets, I don't see any way that somewhat cheaper meat is worth the risk of returning to an era when the president's son could die of an infected blister he picked up playing tennis.  It is possible to have a perfectly rich and fulfilling life without eating most of a pound of meat every day.  On the other hand, the world pre-antibiotics really was visibly much grimmer.

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