On Wednesday last week, the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council revealed that pig herds in the United States receive almost as many antibiotics as people in this country do. That’s bad news, especially since most of the pigs receiving antibiotics aren’t sick, but instead are getting the drugs to prevent infections in intensive farming. Those drugs don’t keep the US pig herd healthy—major diseases have increased year over year since 2000—and all those antibiotics are increasing the amount of drug-resistant bacteria that arise on pig farms and that are routinely found on meat.
None of that is good news. But there’s a second story hidden in the NRDC report that is worse: The advocacy organization had to jump over hurdles to get the data to explain the effects of that drug use. Even in the era of Big Data, the information we‘re allowed to have about how antibiotics are used in US animals is limited, incomplete, and hostage to commercial interests—all of which keeps Americans from fully understanding how bad raising practices put our health at risk.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Other nations track and report agricultural antibiotic use, livestock diseases and human health impacts—not only in granular detail, but in unified data sets that make it easy to see how what’s happening on farms affects the wider world.