Antibiotics In Animal Feed Pose Risk To Children’s Health, Doctors Warn

Overuse of antibiotics in animal feed drastically interferes with doctors trying to treat life-threatening infections in young children, doctors warn.

A report published in the November issue of American Academy of Pediatrics advises that giving antibiotics to healthy livestock, in an attempt to promote growth and prevent disease among livestock, is making antibiotic drugs ineffective when the drugs are needed to treat infections in people — especially for children five years old and younger.

The study’s co-author, Dr. Theoklis Zaoutis of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania, offered Reuters the following brief comment about the prevalent use of antibiotics in animal feed.

“The antibiotics that are fed to the animals lead to the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria in the animal. These bacteria can then be spread to other animals, the environment and to humans.”

Dr. Zaoutis and co-author Dr. Jerome Paulson cite that each year, more than two million Americans become ill with antibiotic-resistant infections, and close to 23,000 people die because of their infection. The report notes that antibiotic resistant bacteria in the environment, food supply, and direct contact with animals is especially detrimental to infants and children.

Livestock Getting Animal Feed
Maine-Anjou bulls feed on a fattener feed. (Photo by Brandi Simons/Getty Images)

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network states that for most bacterial infections, occurrences were highest among children under age five.

The report points out that pediatricians, parents, and caregivers are able to combat antibiotic resistance by avoiding use of antibiotics to treat colds or other viral illnesses. However, though people cannot get antibiotics without a prescription, animals get their antibiotics in animal feed without the need of a veterinarian’s prescription.

Dr. Paulson, past chairperson of the academy’s executive committee of the Council on Environmental Health, stated the dangers of arbitrary use of antibiotics.

“The indiscriminate use of antibiotics without a prescription or the input of a veterinarian puts the health of children at risk.”

Executive director of the Consumer Reports Food Safety and Sustainability Center, Urvashi Rangan, suggests that concerned parents and caregivers may also help discourage the use of antibiotics in livestock feed by choosing to buy only organic products or foods labeled as “raised without antibiotics.”

In addition, Rangan suggests that a long-term solution to antibiotic resistance may involve making changes in the way food is produced for animals. This may include stopping the use of antibiotics and other drugs in healthy animals, as well as employing better drug-free management and hygiene applications to limit disease risk on farms.

Antibiotics researcher at Ohio State University in Columbus, Timothy Landers, noted that buying organic food does not guarantee that resistant bacteria will not be present, according to Reuters’ coverage.

“From a farmer’s perspective, the use of antibiotics helps ensure that food is safe, nutritious, and affordable. What we have lacked is a coordinated, integrated approach to antibiotic resistance including experts on human health, food production animal health and the environment.”

A large majority of medication used to combat infections are the same in humans as they are in animals. However, humans are taking far too many antibiotics in today’s society, even though they use considerably fewer drugs to fight off infections than animals do.

According to this recent report, in 2012, more than 32.2 million pounds of antibiotics – including drug classes not used in humans — were used in livestock, compared with 7.25 million pounds of these drugs used in humans.

In 2013, a total of 19,056 infections, 4,200 hospitalizations, and 80 deaths were reported to the CDC’s Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network, a surveillance system covering 15 percent of the U.S. population.

Cattle Getting Fed
Cattle are given extra feed. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

An article in U.S. News & World Report notes that in recent years, scientific research has been able to link the overuse of antibiotics in animals to infections they have found in humans. These infections include methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, in beef, chicken, pork, and turkey. Additionally, people became infected with MRSA from exposure to livestock, and exposure to E. coli in animals has led to urinary tract infections and sepsis, or blood poisoning, in humans.

Considered one of the world’s major health threats, antimicrobial resistance and the use of antimicrobial agents in agriculture can harm public health — especially a child’s health.

Consumers are advised by the following quote from the antibiotics report titled, “Nontherapeutic Use of Antimicrobial Agents in Animal Agriculture: Implications for Pediatrics,” in the November 2015 journal, American Academy of Pediatrics.

“Because of the link between antibiotic use in food-producing animals and the occurrence of antibiotic-resistant infections in humans, antibiotic agents should be used in food-producing animals only to treat and control infectious diseases and not to promote growth or to prevent disease routinely.”

Parents and caregivers who want to purchase meat that does not have these added antibiotics must look for organic certifications from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, specifying that no growth hormones or antibiotics have been used.

[Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images]