Antibiotic Use in Meat Production Soars, Despite Health Risks

The drugs, used in raising cattle, pigs and chickens have nasty implications for public health, the study warns, but they go largely unrestricted in the United States.

Chances are good that the bacon or hamburger you’re enjoying is laced with antibiotics. The use of the drugs, which are given in low doses to livestock to maintain health and productivity and promote growth, has skyrocketed in recent years.

The practice contributes “to the spread of drug-resistant pathogens in both livestock and humans, posing a significant public health threat,” according to a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. And the growth in antimicrobial consumption by livestock has shown no signs of letting up anytime soon, the report said:

We project that antimicrobial consumption will rise by 67 percent by 2030, and nearly double in Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. This rise is likely to be driven by the growth in consumer demand for livestock products in middle-income countries and a shift to large-scale farms where antimicrobials are used routinely.

According to The Atlantic, the biggest increase in antibiotic use will occur within chicken and pork, not cattle.

Chicken and pigs are easier to raise quickly in tight spaces, whereas cattle herds take a while to build up, explained Timothy Robinson, principal scientist at the International Livestock Research Institute and an author of the study, The Atlantic said.

Several years ago, the European Union barred growth-promoting antibiotics from its livestock feed. Other countries, including Australia, Mexico and New Zealand, have also restricted the application of antibiotics in livestock.

The United States has few limitations in place for antimicrobial consumption in animals. An estimated 80 percent of antibiotics used in the United States are used in animals.

An increase in antibiotic use in livestock raises a public health concern.

What’s more, more than 2 million Americans contract antibiotic-resistant infections each year, VICE News said. Of those, at least 23,000 people die.

“Health organizations have said it’s one of the crises of the century,” Gail Hansen, a public health veterinarian with The Pew Charitable Trusts antibiotic resistance project, told VICE News.

“We’re undergoing this massive change and we need to pay attention to the fact that this is causing people to become sick and die from massive infections,” Ramanan Laxminarayan, lead author on the study and a researcher at the Princeton Environmental Institute, told VICE News. “I think that link needs to be stronger in people’s minds.”

What do you think of antibiotic use in livestock animals? Does it affect your purchasing choices? Let us know in our comments section below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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