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Antibiotics, Farming, and the Presidential Primaries

In my previous entry, I discussed the non-therapeutic of use of antibiotics for livestock, and the nearly-unbelievable statistics that the US livestock industry uses eight times as much antibiotics as are used to treat all human disease -- and this while the resistance of bacteria to antibiotics is growing rapidly.

All this would normally lead me to say that politicians -- including those currently running for President -- looking for issues on which most Americans can agree should get out in front on this and propose far-reaching restrictions on the use of antibiotics in in agriculture. This is the kind of issue that most people don't know about, but if they did, they'd react forcefully to it: "What? We give livestock eight times as much antibiotics as we do humans even though they're not sick? And more people are dying every year because of antibiotic-resistant bacteria? Why hasn't anyone said anything about this? Someone needs to end it!"

On the other hand, our Presidential primary voting system means that candidates spend most of the year before an election -- as in this year -- pandering to the residents of Iowa, a state that poorly represents the country as a whole. According to the US Census Bureau, in 2000, the population of the US was 75.1 percent white, 12.3 percent black or African-American, 3.6 percent Asian, and 12.5 percent Hispanic or Latino (of any race). Meanwhile, Iowa was 93.9 percent white, 2.1 percent black or African-American, 1.3 percent Asian, and 2.8 percent Hispanic or Latino (of any race). Perhaps more to the point, while 20.6 percent of Iowa residents were employed in the agricultural sector in 2002, the comparable statistic for the US as a whole was 14.3 percent.

In other words, Iowans are 1.44 times more likely than Americans as a whole to be employed in agriculture. They're also 1.25 times more likely to be white, 5.86 times less likely to be black or African-American, 2.77 times less likely to be Asian, and 4.46 times less likely to be Hispanic or Latino.

This is not to say that the people of Iowa are less wise than Americans as a group. This is not to say that the people of Iowa are less honest, less prudent, less thoughtful, or less concerned with the future of their country. I'm sure the people of Iowa are, more or less, as wise, honest, prudent, thoughtful, and concerned as the average American. But representative they are not. And as long as Iowa (and New Hampshire, for that matter) continue to exert influence on Presidential candidates so far out of proportion to their population, then we will continue to have Presidential candidates who -- for example -- are scared to say anything that could be construed as anti-farming. Even something as blatantly obvious as ending the abuse of antibiotics by the livestock industry.


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