When I was a kid, we spent summers on my grandparents’ ranch in the Texas hill country. Tending to cattle, building and repairing fences. They had this natural spring, and we’d catch frogs and go fishing in the pond there.
But ranches like that have become anomalies. The dairy farm next to my grandparents’ place has grown into this massive factory farm with just thousands of cattle. The density is far beyond the land’s capacity. The piles of solid waste are huge. They built lagoons for the liquid waste.
That beautiful pond on my family’s farm smells like an outhouse. It’s never coming back. The spring doesn’t even trickle anymore. That’s really been a motivating force for me.
At the Bloomberg School, I’m focusing on emerging antibiotic resistance. Did you know that upwards of 80 percent of the antibiotics used in the U.S. go toward feeding confined animals on factory farms? Not to treat sick animals—just to make the animals fatter.
I’m identifying resistant microbes and then looking at how they leave a factory chicken farm and enter the environment. The farm workers who touch these chickens, are they at a higher risk of getting sick?
And when you go to the grocery store, what’s your risk? I buy poultry products and collect the microbial pathogens on them. Then I look at resistance patterns. I’m concerned about people who have sub-optimal immune systems: old people, people with HIV, kids. If they get infected, these people might really need help from antibiotics. These lifesaving drugs are becoming useless, partly because of what’s being done on these farms. ?