Too many antibiotics fed to animals

February 26, 2012

Food, Health, Meat

“High-volume use of antibiotics in animals is a dangerous avenue for the evolution of drug-resistant bacteria that can eventually spread to humans,”

The mainstream press has begun to report on the dangerous overuse of antibiotics in large factory farms. CBS News did a story earlier this year, and USA Today recently published an editorial.

“High-volume use of antibiotics in animals is a dangerous avenue for the evolution of drug-resistant bacteria that can eventually spread to humans,” the USA Today editorial board said. “But, in a classic case of the public interest taking a back seat to private commercial interests, the farm lobby has, for decades, successfully fought restrictions on animal use of antibiotics. Now federal regulators and some members of Congress are making a worthy new push to rein in hazardous practices.”

The FDA issued a detailed “draft guidance” last month that calls on the agriculture industry to voluntarily end the “injudicious” use of drugs to help animals grow, which it said poses a qualitatively higher risk to public health than using the drugs selectively to cure or prevent disease.

The USA Today editorial board wrote, “The history of such calls for self-regulation shouldn’t make anyone optimistic that food producers will act on their own. Giving animals antibiotics in their feed makes them grow bigger more quickly, which cuts producers’ costs. … This is an increasingly frightening problem. Estimates are that more than 90,000 hospital patients die every year from drug-resistant bacteria, and still more people die from ‘superbugs’ they pick up outside hospitals.”

Antibiotic resistance is an expensive problem in the health care arena. A person who cannot be treated with ordinary antibiotics is at risk of contracting a large number of bacterial infections, thereby needing to be hospitalized for weeks or months. The extra costs to the American health care system are estimated to be as much as $26 billion a year.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, 70 percent of antibiotic use is in animals that are healthy but are vulnerable to transmissible diseases because they live in crowded and unsanitary conditions.

 

Sources: USA Today July 12, 2010 and www.fda.gov/downloads/AnimalVeterinary/GuidanceComplianceEnforcement/GuidanceforIndustry/UCM216936.pdf.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 29, Number 4, Aug/Sept 2010.

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