Did you know that 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the United States are for use on livestock and poultry, not humans? The majority aren't even given to animals that are sick. Instead, it's normal practice in the meat industry to mix these drugs with livestock food and water day after day as a substitute for healthier living conditions and to make chickens, pigs, and cows grow faster.
Video: In Nature's Image
The problem with feeding antibiotics to animals that are not sick is that it kills off weak bacteria and creates the perfect environment for antibiotic-resistant bacteria to multiply and thrive. When the meat industry routinely misuses and overuses antibiotics in this way, it threatens public health when essential drugs no longer work to treat infections. This makes us all less safe.
When we get sick, we want medicine that works. By eliminating routine, non-therapeutic uses of antibiotics, the meat industry can reduce the potential for antibiotic resistance and ensure these important drugs remain effective for treating humans.
While overuse of antibiotics by humans is an important part of this problem, we can't keep antibiotics working without changing the way we raise meat. It's time for the meat industry to clean up its act and commit to only using antibiotics to treat sick animals.
From the Farm to Your Home
Drug-resistant bacteria can and do travel on meat but that's just one of many routes off the farm. These dangerous bacteria can hitch a ride out of animal feedlots on workers who handle contaminated animals or meat. They can travel through water, soil, and air that come into contact with contaminated animal waste. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria can "teach" other bacteria how to be resistant; this "knowledge" can even be passed on from harmless bacteria to pathogenic bacteria.
Once these drug-resistant bacteria develop, they can spread far and wide. Resistant bacteria can cause infections that are harder to treat, requiring the use of medicines with greater side effects. They can also lead to longer illnesses and more hospitalizations. In some cases, the infections can prove untreatable. Multi-drug resistant infections are on the rise while the development of new antibiotics is coming to a standstill.
Just Say No, FDA
In its 2013 report, "Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States", the Centers for Disease Control states,
Up to half of antibiotic use in humans and much of antibiotic use in animals is unnecessary and inappropriate and makes everyone less safe."
A broad coalition of prominent medical and public health groups has warned that the "overuse and misuse of important antibiotics in food animals must end, in order to protect human health."
Yet even in the face of the scientific consensus -- and even its own acknowledgement of the risks -- the Food and Drug Administration has failed to take meaningful action to curb antibiotic misuse and overuse in the meat industry. It's FDA's job to protect our food, our health, and our families. But all the agency has been willing to do is recommend that drug manufacturers and the meat industry voluntarily give up only some of their problematic antibiotics uses. Its voluntary guidelines are full of loopholes and leave action up to the industry. The agency continues to give a free pass to the meat industry to use antibiotics routinely as a substitute for healthier living conditions inside industrial farms.
What can be done?
NRDC successfully sued the FDA to compel the agency to issue mandatory rules that put an end to the routine use of antibiotics on animals that are not sick and don't need them. But the fight is not over.
You can help. We all have a voice and a role to play in keeping antibiotics working by curbing their misuse and overuse on the farm. As consumers, we can move the meat industry to clean up its act and commit to only using medically-important antibiotics to treat sick animals and never as a substitute for healthier living conditions or to make animals to grow faster. Go to www.drugsmakebugs.org to find out more about what you can do to help.
When shopping or dining out, buy and ask for meat and poultry raised without antibiotics in your local restaurants and supermarkets. By choosing USDA Organic or products sold under a "No Antibiotics Administered" label, consumers can reward companies that are using best practices. The "No Antibiotics Administered" or similar labels are regulated by USDA but are not verified. A "USDA Process Verified" claim on the label means that USDA has also attempted to verify compliance.
Stop the spread of superbugs
Sign the petition and say: I want to protect myself and my family from superbugs. I want my meat produced without unsafe uses of antibiotics.
From Our Blogs
- Getting Our Global Act Together on Antibiotics
- posted by David Wallinga, MD, 5/15/15
- Foster Farms take steps on antibiotic stewardship, but more improvement is needed
- posted by Jonathan Kaplan, 5/13/15
- How to Save Antibiotics: Experts Discuss at Duke Medical School
- posted by Mae Wu, 4/22/15
- More Action Needed in National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria
- posted by Mae Wu, 3/27/15
- Untangling the antibiotic resistance puzzle: Expanding global use and a new herbicide risk
- posted by Carmen Cordova, 3/25/15