Maryn McKenna discusses the use of antibiotics in the agriculture industry./Ayushi Agarwal, Photo Editor

Science journalist Maryn McKenna, who joined Emory in January 2019 as a senior fellow in the Center for the Study of Human Health, gave a lecture at the Psychology and Interdisciplinary Sciences building on March 28 regarding the importance of consumers’ voices in changing antibiotics usage within the  agriculture industry as bacterial resistance to antibiotics increases.

A crowd of around 70 Emory students and faculty gathered for the lecture.

“Moving away from meat is not the only possible response to being concerned about the conduct of the industry,” McKenna said. “It’s possible to be concerned about the conduct of the industry and … continue to eat its products, while hoping that its products can be made better.”

McKenna discussed how consumers can use capitalism to their advantage, without drastically changing their meat-eating habits.

“As much as the food system has been based on the desire to spend less money and to make more money … consumers have power to change the meat production system, to change the way food is provided to us, to change the way in which we take notice of the public health risks that we surround ourselves with,” McKenna said.

Much of McKenna’s lecture illustrated the need for current consumer activism regarding agricultural antibiotic use with historical examples of antibiotics in agriculture. McKenna noted that antibiotics usage in animals became widespread in the industry after Thomas Jukes first experimented with giving the drugs to chickens in 1948 and discovered that they caused the animals to grow faster and protect against diseases.

“Poultry, in effect, taught the rest of agriculture how to misuse antibiotics,” McKenna said.

McKenna provided a hopeful outlook on reforming antibiotics use in agriculture, citing past examples in which consumers improved agriculture’s impact on human health. By writing letters to meat producers, voicing safety concerns to the public and controlling consumption habits, consumers have inspired the abolishment of several antibiotic practices throughout history, McKenna said.

Victoria Papadakos (22C), who attended the event, said she appreciated the notion that consumers hold the power to positively change the misuse of antibiotics in agriculture.

“I think it was really interesting how [McKenna] said the people who can influence these big productions and these big multi-million dollar companies [are] just people and consumers voicing their opinions and objecting to things they don’t agree with,” Papadakos said. “We’re the ones who are eating it.”