Hear, hear for the CDC which today kicks off its annual Get Smart About Antibiotics Week to highlight the appropriate use of antibiotics and the growing problem of antibiotic resistance.

The agency emphasizes the need for doctors and patients to work together to improve the careful use of antibiotics in order to preserve these critical medications for the future.

But with 80% of the antibiotics in the US currently going into animals raised for food, says Consumers Union in a press release today, we can’t overlook that the widespread use of these drugs in livestock production is contributing to the problem.

“Doctors and patients need to be much more careful about how they use antibiotics if we’re going to preserve their power,” said Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives for Consumers Union.  “But we also need to get smart about the overuse of antibiotics in food animals.  It’s time to stop the daily feeding of antibiotics to healthy food animals which makes these life-saving medications less effective for people.”

Antibiotics are used in animals raised for meat mostly to make them grow faster or prevent disease in crowded and unsanitary conditions.  As a result of this widespread use, bacteria build resistance to the drugs.  While much of the bacteria are killed off, resistant ‘superbugs’ are left behind that can spread on the farm, into the environment and even the meat bought by consumers.

In fact, Consumer Reports found in 2010 that two-thirds of the chicken samples it tested were contaminated with salmonella or campylobacter or both, and that more than 60 percent of those organisms were antibiotic-resistant.  These superbugs, which are often more difficult to treat, can cause serious illness and even death.

Decades of inaction by Congress and the FDA on this issue has led Consumers Union to pursue change in the marketplace by encouraging grocery stores to move away from selling meat and poultry raised on antibiotics.  We’re starting with Trader Joe’s, the national specialty grocer, because it already offers some antibiotic-free meat and poultry and has taken recent stands in support of other sustainable purchasing practices.

“The threat to public health from the overuse of antibiotics in food animals is real and growing,” said Halloran.  “Trader Joe’s can be a leader in the campaign to protect public health and preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics by selling only meat raised with drugs.”

You can help celebrate Get Smart About Antibiotics week too:   Only take antibiotics when you need them.   Buy meat that’s raised without using antibiotics.  And click here to tell Trader Joe’s to take a stand for public health and stop selling meat from suppliers that abuse these critical drugs.