6 Facts You Need to Know About Antibiotic Resistance
Antibiotic resistance is a life-threatening problem. The post-antibiotic age is quickly approaching as the FDA continues to allow antibiotic overuse in livestock to continue.
The sharing and overprescribing of antibiotics is an issue that is dwarfed by tons of drugs fed to farm animals on a regular basis.
(#1) Most of America's Antibiotics are Fed to Livestock
Of all antibiotic use in the US, 80 percent is dispensed through feed to make animals grow faster and prevent possible disease. The FDA has approved the use of millions of pounds of these drugs without regard to the problems they cause for humans.
Decades worth of research proves that antibiotic resistant bacteria can transfer from farm animals to humans.
It is estimated that 29 million pounds of antibiotics are distributed through animal feed alone. North Carolina administers more of the drug to their livestock than doctors prescribe to their patients throughout the entire US.
Hear it Straight From the Scientists
(#2) Antibiotic Overuse Creates "Superbugs"
Antibiotics are intended to kill or slow the growth of bacteria so that the immune system can take over and fight off an infection successfully. Even when used appropriately, antibiotic resistance builds up rapidly. In a laboratory setting, scientists can produce antibiotic resistant strains in 24 hours.
According to Dr. Lance Price, director of the Center for Microbiomics and Human Health, antibiotic resistance was witnessed almost immediately after the introduction of penicillin. New antibiotics killed off those resistant strains. Then bacteria developed resistance to the new antibiotics, so new drugs were created to fight off new antibiotic-resistant bacteria. And the cycle continues . . .
Superbugs that aren't affected by drugs are catching up with the production of new antibiotics, and we're quickly approaching the point of no return: the post-antibiotic era is quickly approaching. Antibiotics that at one time cured infections are now becoming useless.
(#3) They Knew This Day Was Coming
In 1977, the FDA officially announced that continual low doses of penicillin and tetracycline would result in the creation of antibiotic resistance. In spite of their knowledge, they never took action to stop the widespread abuse of the drug in farm animals.
Several consumer advocate groups have sued, claiming the FDA violates federal laws by allowing farmers to add antibiotics to feed when the health of their animals aren't in danger.
After 35 years, the FDA is being held accountable for their neglect. In an effort to make the case irrelevant, they withdrew their original conclusions regarding the dangers of antibiotic overuse in livestock. The judge wasn't impressed.
The FDA believes that it has fulfilled its responsibilities by encouraging the farming industry to use the drugs "judiciously". The agency's main concern is that taking the time to regulate antibiotic use and hold farmers accountable would be too time consuming and waste the agency's resources.
The Short History of Antibiotic Bans in the US
The use of cephalosporin, an antibiotic that was approved only for human use (yet commonly used in livestock), was forbidden in an order that passed in April of 2012. But Cephalosporin represented only a small percentage of total antibiotic use in farm animals.
This was the second time the FDA took action against antibiotic use in livestock. The first was in 2005 with the ban of the antibiotic fluoroquinolone in poultry. The ban was placed after a widespread outbreak of fluoroquinolone-resistant Campylobacter infections.
(#4) Antibiotic Resistance Spreads from Animals to Humans
Animals can pass antibiotic resistant bacteria to humans. These bacteria, like Salmonella, Campylobacter, and E. Coli, contaminate the environment when the animals' fecal matter and carcasses are used to fertilize vegetables (take note, vegetarians: this affects you, too). Campylobacter and Salmonella are two examples of antibiotic resistant organisms that are spread to people.
(#5) Antibiotic Bans in Denmark Have Improved Food Safety, Health, and Economy
Those who stand to profit from antibiotic use in the farming industry use scare tactics to make the public believe that regulation would send food prices sky-high. But this logic doesn't make much sense, anyway: would you rather (a) spend a couple extra dollars for meat, or (b) die of pneumonia (or other bacterial infection)?
Regardless, Denmark has proven that putting an end to antibiotic use would neither cause an economic disaster nor drastically elevate prices. Since Denmark banned the use of antibiotics in livestock in 1998, the country's pork industry has grown by almost 50 percent. More bacon for everybody!
Katie Couric on Antibiotic Overuse in Livestock
Joel Salatin on How to Reverse the Damage
(#6) The Pros of Antibiotic-Free Outweigh Food Costs
US farmers who have voluntarily stopped using antibiotics find that consumers are willing to pay a few cents more for meats that are antibiotic-free, resulting in greater profits. Especially since antibiotic overuse in livestock has already lessened the drugs' effects.
Restricting the use of antibiotics in farm animals can only benefit the consumer, the animals, and the world. It requires that farmers use only high-quality feed, keep a clean environment, and monitor the health of their animals.
We need to go back to the days when we could shake hands with farmers. The effects of antibiotic overuse supports this idea. Farmers face unreasonable pressures and are forced to take drastic measures in order to ensure high production. The system is broken: it doesn't support the local farmer and it doesn't protect the health of consumers.
The Silver Lining: It's Not Too Late to Slow the Progression of Antibiotic Resistance
Dr. Ellen Silbergeld of Johns Hopkins University has been studying antibiotic resistant bacteria for a decade. Dr. Silbergeld claims that antibiotic restriction in livestock provides real and measurable public health benefits.
If the US would impose tighter regulation on antibiotic use, the country would see marked decline in contamination outbreaks and slow down the development of drug-resistant bacteria. It's not too late to reduce antibiotic resistance, but someday soon it will be.
Many who are involved in the production of food animals are against the restrictions that forbid antibiotic overuse. Many farmers and veterinarians stand opposed to government regulation.
In spite of mountains of evidence presented by scientists and other experts in the field, they maintain that the dangers of antibiotic overuse are largely blown out of proportion. For example, Liz Wagstrom of the National Pork Board says that a ban would only result in more sick and dying pigs, causing a price increase for the US consumer.
But in reality, the cost increase would be minimal. For antibiotic-free pork, the price increase translates to only five cents per pound. Turkey prices rise only 20 cents per pound. This is a small price to pay to protect future generations from antibiotic resistance.
We Need to Stay Informed and Work Together
All countries and sectors who use antibiotics must work together to slow the progression of drug resistant bacteria. Drugs should be used only when needed to fight infections, not as growth stimulants or preventative measures. If we stop antibiotic overuse in farm animals today, scientists will be able to get a firm grip and control the development of resistant bacteria.
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© Liz Davis 2012 Antibiotic Resistance | Antibiotic Overuse In Livestock