Farm Antibiotic Use Defies Scrutiny, Despite Link To Drug-Resistant Bacteria

With the rise in drug-resistant bacteria, advocates are pointing fingers at the farming industry for their sometimes frequent use of antibiotics in animals, even though the animal may not be sick.

The farm industry is the biggest buyer of America’s antibiotics, which they then pump into animals like chickens and pigs, reports Newser. Humans purchase these meats from the grocery store to put on our dinner tables.

But what we may really be munching on for dinner are germs that have grown resistant to antibiotics. But as of yet, officials do not track the use of antibiotics in animals, which makes the link hard to prove concretely.

While eighty percent of the antibiotics sold in the US goes to farm animals that people eat, producers of meat and poultry have no obligation to report how they use the drugs on their animals, according to The New York Times.

The Food and Drug Administration has acknowledged the overwhelming evidence linking the two, and believe that further study isn’t needed to make a decision. Gail Hansen, an epidemiologist who works for Pew Charitable Trusts, an advocate to stop the overuse of antibiotics, stated:

“At some point the available science can be used in making policy decisions.”

Scientists like Keeve Nachman are frustrated at the blank spots in data collection, which are a major handicap in the struggle to take on powerful producers of meat and poultry who contend the link doesn’t exist. Nachman stated that, “It’s like facing off against a major public health crisis with one hand tied behind our backs.”

Antibiotics In Agriculture Contribute To Drug-Resistant Bacteria

Antibiotics are considered a major breakthrough in medical science, and the crown jewels of modern medicine. They have done good in transforming health through stopping infections. But many scientists agree that these modern marvels are being eroded by overuse, both in treatment of infections in people, as well as to encourage growth in chickens, turkeys, cows, and pigs.

Whatever the cause may be, drug-resistant bacteria pose some major health risks. Routine infections that once could have been treated with penicillin pills now require hospitalizations and major antibiotics. Glenn Morris, director of the Emerging Pathogens Institute at the University of Florida, stated:

“The single biggest problem we face in infectious disease today is the rapid growth of resistance to antibiotics. Human use contributes to that, but use in animals clearly has a part too.”

The FDA has tried in fits to regulate the use of antibiotics in animals sold for food, even recently restricting the use of the most common antibiotics prescribed for pneumonia, strep throat and UTIs in people for animals.

But advocates against the overuse of antibiotics have said that the agency is afraid to use its authority. The FDA announced in 1977 that it would start a ban of some agricultural uses of antibiotics, but the House and Senate appropriates committees (dominated by people with agricultural interests) passed resolutions that stopped the bans.

Antibiotics In Agriculture Contribute To Drug-Resistant Bacteria

One of the few sets of data regularly released about antibiotics and agricultural measures antibiotic-resistant bacteria carried by meat and poultry. The data includes a mere 171 chicken breasts, an incredibly small fraction of the more than right billion chickens raised and sold as food in the US each year. The breasts did show a dramatic rise in the presence of antibiotic-resistant salmonella, which was resistant to at least five classes of antibiotics.

Regulatory responsibility is also fractured, as the FDA regulates drugs, but agriculture regulations fall under the Department of Agriculture. Dr. Morris, who worked in the agriculture department during the Clinton administration, stated that, “There’s nobody in charge. And when no one’s in charge, it doesn’t get done.”

While John Glisson, the director of research programs at the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association, an industry group, has said that poultry feed mills “keep detailed records of antibiotic usage in the feed they manufacture,” regulators have had difficulty checking for compliance with existing rules.

Instead of directly monitoring use of antibiotics on farms, they must look for the residue of misused and banned drugs in samples of meat they get from slaughterhouses and grocery stores. Dr. Hansen states that, “We have all these producers saying, ‘Yes, of course we are following the law,’ but we have no way to verify that.”

Do you think that the FDA should work to regulate the use of antibiotics in the animals that we end up putting on our dinner tables?

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