Antibiotics in Animals Endanger Human Health

A recent, massive recall, involving 36 million pounds of tainted ground turkey, 111 reported salmonella illnesses, and one death, is highlighting the link between animals and antibiotic resistance. That recall was one of the largest meat recalls in U.S. history.

The bacterium involved in this particular recall was resistant to at least four antibiotics typically used in turkey production, said the Sun Sentinel. The results are not surprising. Antibiotics are often given to food animals such as turkeys, chickens, cattle, and pigs to quicken their growth and to make up for unsanitary, overcrowded conditions.

We routinely discuss the dangers of antibiotic misuse and overuse and how these practices are directly linked to antibiotic resistant diseases that can wreak havoc on the body. We also recently wrote about the link between the ongoing treatment of farm animals with low antibiotic doses and how that has directly contributed to wide-spread drug resistance.

Science Daily, citing a recent editorial published in Student BMJ, wrote that the unnecessary dosing of antimicrobials in livestock has created resistant disease strains, which damage the health of animals and humans. Jørgen Schlundt and colleagues at the National Food Institute in Denmark say that this routine dosing can be significantly minimized while enabling profits to be maintained.

In the U.S., industry claims the science behind these links are not conclusive; however, said the Sun Sentinel, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization, and hundreds of physician, scientific, and patient organizations disagree. Also the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) testified before Congress in 2010 that there exists a “definitive link” between antibiotic use in food animals and drug-resistant infections in humans.

For instance, the CDC states that Salmonella alone causes about one million food-borne illnesses annually and results in about $365 million in medical costs, said the Sun Sentinel. The CDC, discussing the most recent Salmonella outbreak that, “This antibiotic resistance may be associated with an increase in the risk of hospitalization or possible treatment failure in infected individuals,” reported the Sun Sentinel. Meanwhile, the FDA said that about 78 percent of Salmonella in ground turkey in 2009 was resistant to at least one antibiotic and 26 percent of the Salmonella was resistant to at least three antibiotic classes.

Most recently, we wrote that the National Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC), the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), Food Animal Concerns Trust, Public Citizen, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, filed a lawsuit against the FDA to put an end to the ubiquitous use of antibiotics in animal feed, saying that this dangerous habit is adding to the issue of drug resistance and superbugs. The lawsuit does not call for change in antibiotics usage for ill animals.

The groups asked the FDA to ban the nontherapeutic use of penicillin and tetracyclines in animal feed and to respond to prior petitions seeking this withdrawal concerning other antibiotics. About 70 percent of the antibiotics used in the U.S. are actually used in farms to increase animal growth and offset filthy living conditions, the group explained, adding that, because livestock is treated with very low doses of the potent drugs, diseases are not being treated, but bacteria are encouraged to remain, growing more and more resistant. This practice has enabled, and continues to enable, bacteria to outsmart antibiotics and to survive, thrive, and strengthen so that existing drugs are powerless against their eradication.

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