Friday, December 11, 2015

Asking the Right Questions

It seems that when faced with information they tend to agree with, news reporters become very sloppy or lazy.  They just lead the interviewee along allowing him or her to make the points, without asking questions to clarify the situation.

This was evident during one interview, as the CBS This Morning team were faced with a study from Consumer Reports about how using antibiotics in animals was harming the food supply.

The point being made was a good one.  Overuse of antibiotics has allowed bacteria to evolve leading to “superbugs” including MRSA and other resistant strains.  “At least 2 million Americans fall victim to antibiotic-resistant infections every year; 23,000 die.”  When antibiotics are needlessly used in healthy animals to promote growth, it merely “teases” the bacteria to mutate into more resistant varieties and these bacteria are passed along to consumers when they eat the infected meat and poultry.  This makes it more difficult to treat people who get sick.  Good farming practices mean using the drugs only for sick animals and good hygiene for the rest.

They showed a table with the results of the food they tested, comparing the amount found with superbugs.  Here is a basic reproduction.

Conventionally Grown
w/o Antibiotics
Ground Beef

One host asked, “How do you label against this?”  That was followed by another graphic with an explanation.  They concluded with a comment that you don’t have to give up meat, but just be careful where you buy it.  The representative from Consumer Reports added, “And make sure you cook it thoroughly."

Yes, we want better and safer farming practices.  We want animals (as well as humans) being given antibiotics only when necessary.  But we are left with the impression that the “non-sustainable” farming in conjunction with the restaurants and grocery stores that are less careful about their sources are the big culprits in this superbug problem.

Look again at the table above.  No one asked why the difference in chicken and turkey seemed much less significant, and what would explain any superbugs at all in the “without antibiotics” category. 

Furthermore, no one asked how many of the 23,000 deaths are attributed to this problem.  In the Consumer Reports article it says, “calculations using data from the CDC show that about 20 percent of people sickened by an antibiotic-resistant bug don’t pick it up in the hospital or from another person—they get it from their food.”  So we are talking about only 20% of the problem!  That information was never clear in the interview.  In fact it was implied that the 23,000 deaths can be attributed to those poorly managed farms who didn’t observe “sustainable” practices.

Finally, the comment about thoroughly cooking the meat ended the segment.  Would anyone venture to say how important this is in the overall problem of foodborne illnesses in general, and to this superbug issues specifically?  That might be important information, except once they heard what they wanted to hear it was time to move on to more important news (like interviewing some celebrity).

Can we trust the news media to deliver the whole story?  At the very least we need to keep a very close eye on them.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Click again on the title to add a comment