Many of us may remember the “Where’s the Beef” commercial from the ‘80s but maybe the better question is “What’s in the Beef?”

Many industrial farms routinely feed antibiotics to food animals to promote growth and to compensate for the unhealthy effects of overcrowded and unsanitary farm conditions. According to the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming, 70 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are given to healthy food animals.

This overuse of antibiotics creates new strains of deadly antibiotic-resistant bacteria that reach children and adults through the food supply. The FDA, USDA, and CDC all have testified to a definitive link between the routine uses of antibiotics in food animal production and antibiotic resistance in humans. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria more expensive to treat, require multiple applications of antibiotics, and longer hospital stays.

They also disproportionately affect kids.

Studies show that children are particularly vulnerable to antibiotic-resistant infections. Their immune systems are still developing, so they are less able to fight infections. If they do contract an infection with resistant bacteria, they run a greater risk of severe complications.

The USDA and HHS are the federal agencies with the primary responsibility over the safety of our food supply. According to a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, officials from both agencies have admitted that it is probable that the practice of feeding antibiotics to food animals results in antibiotic resistance in humans, yet they have failed to take sufficient action to mitigate this problem.

We need to urge the government to take action to protect ourselves and our children from antibiotic- resistant bacteria. Here are some immediate steps we can take:

First, we need to urge the USDA and HHS to comply with the GAO’s suggestions. The GAO made several recommendations to the government in its report, including better data collection and surveillance of the antibiotics that cause the spread of resistant bacteria. These recommendations are vital to requiring the government to determine the full scope of this problem and take sufficient action to address it.

Second, we need to encourage the FDA to strengthen its regulations. The FDA has regulations in place, but they are not aggressive enough to stop this growing problem. Many antibiotics were grandfathered in before the FDA began to require pharmaceutical companies to examine whether antibiotic use in farm animals would result in resistance in humans. Therefore, in their current state these regulations are not effective in stopping the overuse and misuse of antibiotics in food animals.

Last year, the FDA released a new policy to limit antibiotic use in farm animals for health purposes, and was supposed to issue guidelines as of June 2011 to lay out how drug companies are supposed to comply with this new policy. However, so far no guidelines have been released. We need to urge the FDA to release and implement guidelines to prevent these companies from continuing this harmful practice.

Last but not least, we need to support passage of the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA) of 2011. (H.R. 965, S. 1211). PAMTA would prohibit the routine, non-therapeutic use of seven classes of antibiotics in food animals, unless they are being used to treat sick animals or the FDA finds that the use does not result in antibiotic resistance in humans.

Next time you bite into a hamburger, make sure to stop and think about the steps you can take to prevent the overuse of antibiotics in our food supply and protect ourselves and our children from the spread of resistant bacteria.