Chew on this: Antibiotic use in livestock

July 27, 2008

Massive quantities of antibiotics are used in animal agriculture, contributing to the development and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that increasingly threaten human health. An estimated 55-70% of the antibiotics used in the United States each year are used as feed additives for chickens, hogs, and beef cattle not to treat disease, but rather to promote growth and to compensate for crowded, stressful, and often unhygienic conditions on industrial-scale farms.

Many of the drugs used for these “nontherapeutic” purposes are identical or related to those used in human medicine, but their use as feed additives requires no prescription. Growing evidence links use of these antibiotic feed additives to the development and spread of resistant bacteria in our food supply and environment, making it harder for physicians to treat people suffering from bacterial disease.

Antibiotic resistance is a serious public-health problem; the U.S. Centers for Disease Control regards it as one of the agency’s “top concerns.” The National Academy of Sciences estimates that antibiotic-resistant bacteria generate a minimum of $4 billion to $5 billion in costs to U.S. society and individuals yearly.


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