Antibiotic Overuse Could Lead to Public Health Crisis

Eighty percent of all antibiotics currently used in the United States are given to farmed animals, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s annual National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS) Retail Meat report, released in February. At a record-high total of 29.9 million pounds of drugs, the amount of antibiotics sold over-the-counter at feed lot stores to American beef, pork and poultry producers in 2011 was almost four times the amount sold to treat people.

“We are standing on the brink of a public health catastrophe,” said Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY), author of the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act. “The threat of antibiotic resistant disease is real, it is growing and those most at risk are our seniors and children.”

The latest NARMS data also revealed a startling 78% of salmonella found in turkey is resistant to at least one antibiotic, as is 75% of salmonella in chicken. Tetracycline-resistant campylobacter bacteria was also found in 95% of retail chicken.

“For ground turkey, [the FDA] found 10 different strains of salmonella, resistant to six or more antibiotic classes,” said Gail Hansen, senior officer for the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming. “We don’t have hundreds of antibiotic classes to choose from. If you get salmonella and your doctor wants to give you an antibiotic, they’re going to have to be careful in what they choose.”

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the FDA has known that administering healthy livestock with antibiotics encourages the growth of drug-resistant superbugs since the 1970s, yet over 30 years later, the organization has yet to take any effective steps toward regulating the practice. Opposition and warnings over antibiotic resistance have poured in over the years from prestigious groups like the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA). In 2004, IDSA released the report “Bad Bugs, No Drugs: As the Antibiotic Discovery Stagnates a Public Health Crisis Brews,” warning that 70% of Americans who acquire a bacterial infection were already resistant to at least one drug and “the trends toward increasing numbers of infection and increasing drug resistance show no sign of abating.”

“In the face of the antibiotic resistance crisis, we cannot afford to be standing still. We need strong action to combat the overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture,” said Steven Roach, Public Health Program Director at Food Animal Concerns Trust and a member of Keep Antibiotics Working, a coalition of organizations dedicated to reducing the overuse of antibiotics in food producing animals. “The FDA needs to use all the tools it has available to begin rolling back this massive use of antibiotics.”