Antibiotic Use in Farm Animals

Antibiotic use in farm animals has been a common practice since the 1940s. While there has been a decrease in the use of antibiotics for humans, little is being done to reduce the practice in animals, raising concerns of antibiotic resistance. In fact, the Interagency Task Force on Antimicrobial Resistance found that the extensive use of antimicrobial drugs has resulted in an epidemic of antibiotic resistance.

Approximately 80% of antibiotics are used in meat and poultry, used to promote growth or prevent disease. Humans who are exposed to antibiotic treated meat and poultry are at risk for two concerning reasons:

  1. Potential presence of superbugs in meat and poultry
  2. Migration of superbugs in the environment where they can cause genetic immunity to antibiotics to other bacteria that can make people sick.

The threat to public health is so great that agencies such as American Medical Association (AMA) and World Health Organization (WHO) called for a significant reduction in the use of antibiotics for animal food production. Experts have concluded that there is a connection between antibiotic use in animals and the loss of effectiveness of these drugs in human medicine. The most dramatic of which came as a result of FDA approval of fluoroquinolones–a class of antibiotics that includes Cipro (ciprofloxacin), which has been used in poultry production since 1995. By 1999 nearly 20% of chicken breasts sampled contained ciprofloxacin-resistant bacteria Camplobacter (C. coli). After a lengthy fight in the courts, the FDA banned use of the drug in 2005, at which point nearly 30% of C. coli found in chicken breasts were ciprofloxacin resistant; by 2010, resistance to ciprofloxacin had declined to 13.5%

Although the use of fluoroquinolones (Baytril, enrofloxacin) have been banned in the United States, it is common practice overseas.

The Quinolone Vigilance Foundation urges consumers to inquire about antibiotics in meat and poultry that they purchase.

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