All drugged up: Factory farms and antiobiotic resistance
June 6, 2009
70 percent of all antibiotics produced in the U.S. – 25 million pounds annually – are given to farm animals, not people. Overcrowding and unsanitary conditions are the main reasons. Farm animals given antibiotics also need less food to grow.
To help prevent the development of “superbugs” that are resistant to antibiotics, doctors commonly warn their patients that antibiotics should only be used for bacterial infections, and should be taken at the proper dosage for the full course of treatment.
Industrial farms violate these medical principles every day by feeding healthy animals low doses of antibiotics over long periods of time in order to speed up their growth and to compensate for unsanitary living conditions. This creates the ideal breeding ground for dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria to thrive and spread.
The misuse of antibiotics on industrial farms threatens the health of farm workers, communities and the public. The American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other leading medical groups agree that the growth of bacterial infections resistant to antibiotic treatment is a looming public health challenge. The groups also agree the misuse of antibiotics on industrial animal farms plays a significant role in this crisis. While antibiotics are prescribed to people for short-term disease treatment, these same critically important drugs—like tetracycline, erythromycin and ciproflaxin—are fed in low doses to large herds or flocks daily, often for the lifespan of the animal. This creates ideal conditions for the breeding of new and dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Get the facts:
- Up to 70 percent of U.S. antibiotics go to animals raised on industrial farms that aren’t sick, to offset crowding and poor sanitation. This practice promotes the development of deadly strains of drug-resistant bacteria that can spread to humans.
- Penicillins, tetracyclines, macrolides, sulfonamides and other antibiotic intended for humans are typically pre-mixed in poultry and livestock feed or added to drinking water, often giving food animals constant low doses of antibiotics over much of their entire lives.
- Ninety percent of hogs and 97 percent of poultry are grown on factory farms in the United States.
- Food-borne illnesses are becoming more difficult to treat due to the increase in antibiotic-resistant strains and the decreased effectiveness of antibiotics used as a first-line defense.
- Consumers are exposed to resistant bacteria through the handling and consumption of contaminated meat, through produce that has been exposed to resistant bacteria in soil and water, or through direct contact with the bacteria in the environment.
- Food-borne bacteria are more dangerous in their antibiotic-resistant forms, because they are harder to treat and may require multiple antibiotic treatments, longer hospital stays and other interventions before finally being eliminated.
- Antibiotic-resistant bacteria cost the U.S. health care system an estimated $4 to $5 billion per year.
- Each year 300,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths are caused by food contaminated by dangerous pathogens and bacteria such as Salmonella and E. Coli, which are increasingly becoming antibiotic resistant.
- There are around 2.4 million Campylobacter infections in the U.S. and about half of these are resistant to at least one antibiotic. Nearly 14 percent of these infections are resistant to at least two drugs.