Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

A factory farm in Ione, Oregon. (Photo: Friends of Family Farmers/flickr/cc)

Oregon Seeks to Become First State to Limit Antibiotic Use at Factory Farms

'Oregon's farmers want to nourish the state and believe public health should be increased, not endangered, by producing food to put on our tables.'

Deirdre Fulton

Oregon could become the first state in the country to regulate agricultural use of antibiotics, should lawmakers approve bills that would prohibit giving antibiotics to healthy farm animals and require factory farms to report how the drugs are used in their operations.

More than 70 percent of antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used on livestock and poultry—and not primarily to treat sick animals. Instead, factory farms often put antibiotics into the daily feed and water of healthy animals, to promote growth and prevent disease due to overcrowded and dirty conditions.

As a result, bacteria commonly present on farms are mutating into stronger, antibiotic-resistant strains, which in turn find their way to the human population through numerous pathways, including contaminated food, airborne dust blowing off farms, and water and soil polluted with contaminated feces.

"There is a near consensus among public health experts that the bulk antibiotics produced by [the animal pharmaceutical industry] are accelerating the approach of a post-antibiotics nightmare scenario, in which superbugs routinely emerge from our farms and wreak havoc on a human population living among the ruins of modern medicine," Alexander Zaitchick wrote at Salon last year. 

Those experts range from the World Health Organization and the Infectious Diseases Society of America to the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, all of which signed onto a 2011 letter stating that "the evidence is so strong of a link between misuse of antibiotics in food animals and human antibiotic resistance that FDA and Congress should be acting much more boldly and urgently to protect these vital drugs for human illness."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that at least 2 million Americans become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of these infections.

The bills in Oregon, which have gained the support of medical providers, local food advocates, and consumer rights watchdogs, aim to curtail such antibiotic overuse and its dangerous consequences.

"Our farm is just one of thousands across the United States and around the world that offer living proof that it is not necessary to overuse antibiotics on healthy animals to raise a profitable product," said Chrissie Manion Zaerpoor, co-owner of Kookoolan Farms in the northwestern part of the state. "Oregon's farmers want to nourish the state and believe public health should be increased, not endangered, by producing food to put on our tables."

Oregon's House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources heard testimony on its bill last week, and the Senate Committee on Health Care will debate a similar proposal on Monday. The bills would only affect Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, as defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Out of Oregon's 35,000 farms, just over 100 of them are CAFOs.

Opponents of the bills say such regulation should be left up to the federal government.

But federal efforts to address the problem have been week, watchdogs say.

As Oregon's Statesman Journal reports:

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has addressed a part of the issue and asked pharmaceutical companies to stop selling antibiotics to animal farms for the purpose of growth promotion. OSPIRG and Friends of Family Farms say this is a voluntary program and lacks teeth. It also does not address disease prevention, which they say masks poor animal husbandry practices and attempts to offset unsanitary conditions.

Meanwhile, the White House's 'National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria,' released last week, was criticized as "a missed opportunity to take more aggressive action."

"Unfortunately, the plan falls short of protecting the public from this looming public health crisis in that it fails to adequately address the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms, relying on FDA's limited efforts to change practices through voluntary guidance," stated Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter.

"The Food and Drug Administration has been aware of the problems associated with the misuse of these critical, life saving drugs since at least 1977, but has not required factory farms to stop misusing them," she continued. "Despite overwhelming scientific evidence that curbing the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms would address this public health crisis and help maintain the effectiveness of these critical, life saving drugs, the meat industry continues to oppose meaningful regulation on how it uses antibiotics."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

'Political Malpractice': House Democrats' Bill Wouldn't Add Dental to Medicare Until 2028

"I don't want to see it drawn out to as far as the House has proposed," Sen. Bernie Sanders said during a recent press call.

Jake Johnson ·


'How Many More Deaths Must It Take?' Barbados Leader Rips Rich Nations in Fierce UN Speech

"How many more variants of Covid-19 must arrive, how many more, before a worldwide plan for vaccinations will be implemented?"

Jake Johnson ·


To Avert Debt Ceiling Calamity, Democrats Urged to Finally Kill the Filibuster

"The solution is to blow up the filibuster at least for debt limit votes, just as Mitch blew it up to pack the Supreme Court for his big donors."

Jake Johnson ·


Biden Decries 'Outrageous' Treatment of Haitians at Border—But Keeps Deporting Them

"I'm glad to see President Biden speak out about the mistreatment of Haitian asylum-seekers. But his administration's use of Title 42 to deny them the right to make an asylum claim is a much bigger issue."

Jessica Corbett ·


Global Peace Activists Warn of Dangers of US-Led Anti-China Pacts

"No to military alliances and preparation for catastrophic wars," anti-war campaigners from over a dozen nations write in a letter decrying the new AUKUS agreement. "Yes to peace, disarmament, justice, and the climate."

Brett Wilkins ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo