Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Abuse of Antibiotics and the Rise of ‘Super Bugs’

The use of antibacterial drugs on healthy livestock is a common practice in the United States. The meat industry’s overuse of antibiotics has become so widespread that about 29 million pounds of these drugs (or 80% of all antibiotics sold in the US) are used in industrial feedlots, with only 14% of these drugs being used for therapeutic purposes. As a result, dangerous germs, dubbed “super bugs”, capable of fighting off antibiotics, are spreading throughout our communities, not only jeopardizing our health, but also the future of healthcare.

Antibiotic Use in Industrial Farms
Giving low-level antibiotics to farm animals started in the 1950s, when raising animals in large confined feedlots began to replace small local farms. The conditions in this new type of farming were ripe for the spread of infectious disease among livestock, as animals were now being confined to overcrowded spaces and given limited access to fresh air, sunlight and exercise. Antibiotics were thus used as preventative medicine. Over the last 50 years, in an effort to prevent infections large meat producers have been regularly putting antibiotics into the feed and water given to farm animals.

Rise in Super Bugs
As a result of this practice, antibiotic resistant bacteria, such as MRSA, are starting to become a growing concern for public health. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tests meats sold in grocery stores, and has reported that about 50% of meats are contaminated by antibiotic-resistant bacteria. These bacteria can also be spread by air, water and feedlot workers.  As a result, it has become increasingly difficult to treat a variety of illnesses such as ear infections and strep throat with antibiotics.
Drug-resistant infections are estimated to cost Americans up to $26 billion per year in additional healthcare costs. Those costs go up to as much as $36 billion a year when lost productivity and other factors are taken into account. – (source: Natural Resources Defense Council)
Today, the medical industry’s answer to this problem is to make more new antibiotics, which are often much more expensive and can have greater side effects. And, although all of the major medical groups, such as the American Medical Association and American Academy of Pediatrics, agree that non-therapeutic use of antibiotics on animals must be stopped, the FDA has not taken much action to make this happen.

If this situation continues as is, scientists note that it is only a matter of time before the rise of an unstoppable ‘super bug’ that could devastate both animal and human populations. And along the way, many of the diseases that we now disregard as non-threatening will come back to wreak havoc, since antibiotics are no longer effectual. A serious crisis in the making, born out of irresponsible and greedy farming practices.

Actionable Options
Sadly, America continues to fall behind when it comes to the quality of the food available to its public. Many European countries have banned using antibiotics on animals to promote faster growth and prevent infectious disease caused by inhumane conditions. So what can be done?

The answer, of course, lies in personal action and decision-making.

If you are not already sickened by the way that animals are raised and treated in industrial feedlots, perhaps this will give some a new reason to consider moving towards a more vegetable rich diet, and away from consuming vast amounts of meat products. And if you can’t seem to let go of the carnivorous you, then consider purchasing meats from producers that only use antibiotics on animals to treat illnesses. These foods are typically labeled USDA Certified Organic, American Grassfed Certified, Animal Welfare Approved, and Certified Humane.

This article was originally published on

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