How Antibiotics in Livestock Harms Our Health

How Antibiotics in Livestock Harms Our Health

Antibiotic resistance is an increasing health problem on a global scale. The World Health Organization (WHO) characterizes it as “one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today.” Increasing numbers of infections are becoming harder to treat with antibiotics-including pneumonia, tuberculosis, and gonorrhoea.

Read about antibiotic resistance 

One of the causes of antibiotic resistance is the widespread use of antibiotics among livestock. WHO cites the misuse of antibiotics in animals as “accelerating the process” of antibiotic resistance. In the U.S. 70 percent of all sales of medically important antibiotics is for use in livestock. The U.S. is also the second highest user of antibiotics in food animal production, accounting for about 13 percent of global use.

Addressing and reducing the use of antibiotics in livestock is key to dealing with antibiotic resistance. As a recently released report written by 12 antibiotic resistance experts states, “Without urgent action, that reality is likely to return as infections that are no longer treatable with today’s antibiotics continue to increase.”

The report titled Combating Antibiotic Resistance: A Policy Roadmap to Reduce Use of Medically Important Antibiotics in Livestock makes recommendations for antibiotic use among livestock. These recommendations are aimed at ensuring policy makers, food companies, institutional food purchasers and medical groups can address antibiotic use in food animal production. They fall into three key areas: decreasing livestock use of antibiotics, monitoring livestock antibiotic use, and enhancing surveillance and data integration to inform antibiotic resistance policy.

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Jason Newland, MD, who co-chaired the commission that produced the report, said in a statement that “until we become better stewards of antibiotics, both in human medicine and in livestock production, these life-saving drugs will continue to become less effective, and the effectiveness of any future antibiotics will be at constant risk.” Newland is a pediatric infectious diseases physician at Washington University in St. Louis and the Director of the Antimicrobial Stewardship Program at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

The best way to reduce your exposure to antibiotics used in livestock is to buy organic meat. The U.S. Department of Agriculture states that organic meat certified by the federal agency comes from animals not given antibiotics. Speak to your local butcher, or look for meat labeled as “no antibiotics,” “raised without antibiotics,” or “USDA-certified organic.”

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Gina-Marie is a freelance writer armed with a passion for healthy living and a degree in journalism. Hailing from the dry, sunny Central San Joaquin Valley, she hasn't let the heat fry her brain!