Bill Maher Pushes Obama on Food Antibiotics and GMOs

The president gets the problem, despite his FDA’s industry-friendly approach.


In a recent interview on our Bite podcast, food pundit Mark Bittman named one “way, way easy” thing the President Barack Obama could have done to make the food system safer and healthier: tightly restrict the meat industry’s use of antibiotics. But instead of doing so, Bittman said, Obama’s Food and Drug Administration instituted voluntary guidelines that leave a gaping, industry-friendly loophole—a topic I explain here.

Turns out, Obama fully gets why it’s dangerous to feed confined animals low, regular doses of the same drugs we use to fight infections in people. Bill Maher, who landed an interview with the president on his HBO show, pressed Obama talk about corporate malfeasance in food production—the conversation turns to food at about the 16:00 mark; here‘s a snippet. Obama urged listeners to “follow the science,” and then he said this:

So, when it comes to antibiotics, for example, the science is clear: We pump our animals full of it. And that’s not just a problem in terms of what we’re ingesting; it’s also a problem that more and more bacteria is becoming resistant to antibiotics.

Indeed. Here’s more on just how dire the antibiotic-resistance has become. And here’s a dive into the meat industry’s massive contribution to it.

It would have been fascinating to see Maher press Obama on the FDA’s flawed approach to addressing the problem. According to the agency’s latest numbers, use of “medically important” antibiotics on US farms rose 23 percent between 2009 and 2014. Over the same period, US meat production was roughly flat, meaning that meat production became more antibiotic-intensive over that five-year period of Obama’s watch.

The two also dipped into the recent debate on genetically modified organisms in food production. Again urging people to “follow the science,” Obama opined that GMOS are a mixed bag: “There are areas where there are legitimate concerns; there are some areas where the science seems to indicate, well, this is okay.” In an apparent reference to a recent New York Times report, Maher noted that that GMOs have proven to be no more productive than conventional crops, while also using more pesticides. Obama’s response:

If it turns out that some of these genetically modified foods aren’t healthier, aren’t more productive, then we should follow the science. If in some cases they aren’t causing any harm, we should follow the science there as well.

It was bracing to see a sitting president engage in an informed conversation about food policy. If only it happened more often.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate