Should You Be Concerned About the Overuse of Antibiotics in Farm Animals?
However, other experts suggest that antibiotic use in food-producing animals poses very little risk to human health.
This article explores how antibiotics are used in foods and their potential consequences for your health.
Antibiotic Use in Food-Producing Animals
Antibiotics are drugs used to treat bacterial infections. They work by killing or stopping the growth of harmful bacteria.
Since the 1940s, antibiotics have been given to farm animals like cows, pigs and poultry in order to treat infections or prevent an illness from spreading.
These low doses may also reduce animal death rates and improve reproduction.
For these reasons, antibiotic use has become widespread in agriculture. In 2011, 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. were for use in food-producing animals (3).
Bottom Line: Antibiotics are drugs used to treat bacterial infections. They are widely used in animal agriculture to treat disease and promote growth.
The Amount of Antibiotics in Foods is Very Low
Contrary to what you may think, the chances of you actually consuming antibiotics through animal foods is extremely low.
Strict legislation is currently in place in the U.S. to ensure that no contaminated food products are able to enter the food supply.
Similar laws are in place in Canada, Australia and the European Union.
Additionally, vets and animal owners are required to ensure that any animal products they produce are drug-free before they can be used as food.
Drug withdrawal periods are enforced before treated animals, eggs or milk are used as food. This allows time for the drugs to completely leave the animal's system.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a strict process of testing all meat, poultry, eggs and milk for unwanted compounds, including antibiotic residues (4).
Bottom Line: Due to strict government legislation, it is extremely rare that antibiotics given to an animal would enter your food supply.
There is No Evidence That Antibiotics in Foods Are Harming People Directly
No evidence suggests antibiotics in food products are directly harming people.
In fact, figures from the USDA showed that the amount of animal products found to have antibiotic residues were extremely low and those that did were disposed of.
In 2010, less than 0.8 percent of animal food products tested positive for some form of contamination, including antibiotic residue (5).
Products confirmed as positive do not enter the food chain. Producers with repeat violations are publicly exposed—a system that discourages any misconduct.
Bottom Line: There is no evidence to suggest that antibiotics are being consumed from animal food products, let alone causing harm to humans.
The Overuse of Antibiotics in Animals Can Increase Resistant Bacteria
Antibiotics are generally fine when used properly for treating or preventing infections.
However, excessive or inappropriate use is a problem. When antibiotics are overused, they end up becoming less effective for both humans and animals.
This is because bacteria that are frequently exposed to antibiotics develop a resistance to them. As a result, the antibiotics are no longer as effective at killing harmful bacteria. This is a great concern for public health (6).
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recognized this concern, updating its regulations to reduce the unnecessary use of antibiotics in livestock.
Bottom Line: Excessive antibiotic use can increase resistant bacteria, making the antibiotics less effective for both animals and humans.
Resistant Bacteria Can Spread to Humans, with Serious Health Risks
Resistant bacteria can be passed from food-producing animals to humans in a number of ways.
If an animal is carrying resistant bacteria, it can be passed on through meat that is not handled or cooked properly.
You can also encounter these bacteria by consuming food crops that have been sprayed with fertilizers containing animal manure with resistant bacteria.
One study found that people living close to crop fields sprayed with pig manure fertilizer are at a higher risk of infection from the resistant bacteria MRSA (7).
Once spread to humans, resistant bacteria can stay in the human gut and spread between individuals. The consequences of consuming resistant bacteria include (8):
- Infections that would not have happened otherwise.
- Increased severity of infections, often including vomiting and diarrhea.
- Difficulty in treating infections and higher chances that treatments will fail.
In the U.S., every year around two million people get infected with bacteria resistant to one or more of the antibiotics normally used to treat the infections (9).
Of those people, at least 23,000 die each year. Many more die from other conditions made worse by the infection (9).
Bottom Line: Resistant bacteria can be transferred from animals to humans through contaminated food products, causing infections and even death.
Resistant Bacteria in Food Products
Resistant bacteria in supermarket foods is a lot more common than you might think.
Commonly reported harmful bacteria from foods include Salmonella, Campylobacterand E.coli.
One report found resistant bacteria in 81 percent of ground turkey meat, 69 percent of pork chops, 55 percent of ground beef and 39 percent of chicken breasts, wings and thighs found in U.S. supermarkets (11).
Another study tested 136 beef, poultry and pork samples from 36 U.S. supermarkets. Almost 25 percent tested positive for the resistant bacteria MRSA (12).
Many products claim to be “raised without antibiotics," including some that are labeled organic. This does not mean these products are free from resistant bacteria.
Evidence suggests that these products still contain resistant bacteria, although they are slightly less resistant than regular products grown using antibiotics.
A study found that organic chickens were more frequently contaminated with bacteria like Salmonella and Campylobacter than non-organic chickens. However, the bacteria in organic chickens were slightly less resistant to antibiotics (13).
Again, the prevalence of Enterococcus bacteria was 25 percent higher in organic chicken than non-organic chicken. However, the amount of resistant bacteria was almost 13 percent less in organic chicken (14).
Another study found that out of 213 samples, the frequency of antibiotic-resistant E. coli tended to be only slightly lower for chicken raised without antibiotics, compared to regular chicken (15).
Bottom Line: Resistant bacteria are frequently found in animal-based food products. Food labeled “organic" or “raised without antibiotics" may have slightly lower amounts of resistant bacteria.
Why You Probably Don't Need to Be Concerned
There is no clear-cut evidence directly linking antibiotic use in food-producing animals to increased illness due to resistant bacteria in humans.
One review concluded that the danger to health is very small because proper cooking destroys the harmful bacteria (16).
It may actually be the human use of antibiotics that causes the majority of bacterial resistance (16).
However, transmission to the general public is rare. A study from Denmark reported that the likelihood of transmission for the population was only 0.003 percent (18).
If the food products are cooked properly and good hygiene practices are followed, then the risk is extremely low.
Bottom Line: There is no clear-cut link between antibiotic use in animals and resistant bacteria infections in humans. The risk to human health is likely to be small, since adequate cooking destroys bacteria in food.
How To Minimize Your Risk of Illness
It may be impossible to completely avoid resistant bacteria in animal foods.
However, there are things you can do to significantly reduce your risk:
- Practice good food hygiene: Wash your hands, use separate cutting boards for different foods and wash utensils thoroughly.
- Ensure food is cooked properly: Cooking meat to the proper temperature should kill any harmful bacteria.
- Buy antibiotic-free foods: You can minimize your risk even further by looking for labels that read organic, raised without antibiotics or antibiotic-free.
Take Home Message
The debate on antibiotic use in animals still continues.
Although there is no evidence that antibiotics in foods harm people directly, most agree that the over-use of antibiotics in food-producing animals is a problem.
It can contribute to the development and spread of drug-resistant bacteria, which is a potential risk to public health.
This article was reposted from our media associate Authority Nutrition.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
This week marks the official start of fall, but longer nights and colder days can make it harder to spend time outdoors. Luckily, there are several inspiring environmental films that can be streamed at home.
1. Kiss the Ground<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ccc5f0c92a5603e68aec39e56b0db02a"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/K3-V1j-zMZw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: Netflix</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Sept. 22</strong></p><p>Between <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/wildfires-california-washington-oregon-photos-2647585008.html" target="_self">wildfires devastating the U.S. West Coast</a> and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tropical-storm-beta-landfall-2647760268.html" target="_self">storms battering the Gulf</a>, the impacts of the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/climate-change/" target="_self">climate crisis</a> can feel overwhelming right now. <em><a href="https://kissthegroundmovie.com/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Kiss the Ground</a> </em>offers an alternative to all of the bad news by focusing on solutions.</p><p>The film, directed by Josh and Rebecca Tickell and narrated by Woody Harrelson, explains how we can heal the Earth through "regenerative agriculture," farming practices that draw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and into soil as a way to restore soil health, which in turn boosts ecosystems and food supplies.</p><p>"<em>Kiss the Ground </em>shows how feasible it is to make these changes at a grassroots level immediately and make a truly substantive impact with low cost and easy to implement solutions," Executive Producer RJ Jain said in an email. "This is why I got involved."</p>
2. Public Trust: The Fight for America's Public Lands<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5338f7a2931e356910026e5fd76fac56"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/jsKMTAaj_wQ?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: YouTube</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Sept. 25, 2 p.m. EDT </strong></p><p>This <a href="https://www.patagonia.com/films/public-trust/" target="_blank">award-winning documentary</a> tells the stories of Indigenous activists, journalists, whistleblowers and historians working to protect America's <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/public-lands" target="_self">public lands</a>. The film focuses on three political struggles: the shrinking of <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/bears-ears" target="_self">Bears Ears</a> National Monument in Utah, the mining of Boundary Waters Wilderness in Minnesota and the opening of the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/Arctic-National-Wildlife-Refuge" target="_self">Arctic National Wildlife Refuge</a> to fossil fuel exploration.</p><p><em>Public Trust</em> was directed by David Garrett Byars and produced by Jeremy Rubingh. Patagonia Films, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and actor Robert Redford are executive producers. It will be <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGjnIG7puzY" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">released</a> on YouTube in time for <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/national-public-lands-day-2640656776.html" target="_self">National Public Lands Day</a>.</p><p>"Our country is fortunate to have millions of acres of public lands, including National Parks, Monuments, Wildlife Refuges and Wilderness set aside for future generations," Redford said. "Sadly, these lands that belong to you and me are under unprecedented threats from the greed of big corporations, eager to weaken restrictions in the pursuit of profits. Many of our current politicians are also to blame. <em>Public Trust</em> tells the story of citizens who are fighting back. It's a much-needed wake-up call for all of us who want to preserve our unique and wild cultural heritage."</p>
3. David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="156438a30836a765d7a92982545fc334"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/B_OFZvAd05Y?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: Netflix</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Oct. 4</strong></p><p>Beloved nature broadcaster <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/David-Attenborough" target="_self">David Attenborough</a> has spent his career introducing viewers to the wonders of our planet. In recent years, his footage of albatrosses swallowing <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/plastics" target="_self">plastic</a> in <em>Blue Planet II</em> has been credited with <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/2018-fighting-plastic-waste-2624606566.html" target="_self">helping to ramp up</a> the global fight against plastic pollution. Now, in this <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">World Wildlife Fund</a> (WWF)-produced <a href="https://www.attenborough.film/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">documentary</a>, he reflects on the defining moments of his career and the devastating changes he has witnessed.</p><p><em>David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet,</em> which was also produced by Silverback Films and directed by Alastair Fothergill, Jonnie Hughes and Keith Scholey, features an intimate conversation between Attenborough and Sir Michael Palin as the broadcaster reflects on his life and a career that took him to every continent on Earth. In addition to streaming on Netflix, the movie will be available in select theaters starting Sept. 28.</p><p>"For decades, David has brought the natural world to the homes of audiences worldwide, but there has never been a more significant moment for him to share his own story and reflections," WWF executive producer Colin Butfield said in a <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/david-attenborough-life-our-planet" target="_blank">statement</a>. "This film coincides with a monumental year for environmental action as world leaders make critical decisions on nature and climate. It sends a powerful message from the most inspiring and celebrated naturalist of our time."</p>
- Sir David Attenborough Set to Present BBC Documentary on ... ›
- 7 of the Best New Documentaries About Global Warming - EcoWatch ›
- Movies to Watch This Earth Day: EcoWatch Staff Picks - EcoWatch ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
The world's largest online retailer is making it slightly easier for customer to make eco-conscious choices.
- Employees Are Fighting for Climate Change at Work - EcoWatch ›
- Amazon's Carbon Footprint Rises 15% as Company Invests $2 ... ›
- Jeff Bezos Pledges $10 Billion to Fight the Climate Crisis - EcoWatch ›
- Budweiser Re-Labels As Climate-Friendly Beer - EcoWatch ›
The Trump administration's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a risk assessment for toxic pesticide chlorpyrifos Tuesday that downplayed its effects on children's brains and may be the first indication of how the administration's "secret science" policy could impact public health.
- Democratic Bill Banning Toxic Pesticides Applauded as 'Much ... ›
- Trump EPA Won't Regulate Toxic Drinking Water Chemical That ... ›
- California, Nation's Top User of Chlorpyrifos, Announces Ban on ... ›
- Wheeler's EPA Keeps Brain-Damaging Chlorpyrifos in Food ›
- Entire Pesticide Class Must Be Banned to Save Children's Health ... ›
By Maria Trimarchi and Sarah Gleim
If all the glaciers and ice caps on the planet melted, global sea level would rise by about 230 feet. That amount of water would flood nearly every coastal city around the world [source: U.S. Geological Survey]. Rising temperatures, melting arctic ice, drought, desertification and other catastrophic effects of climate change are not examples of future troubles — they are reality today. Climate change isn't just about the environment; its effects touch every part of our lives, from the stability of our governments and economies to our health and where we live.
<p>Why environmental refugees flee their homes is a complicated mixture of environmental degradation and desperate socioeconomic conditions. People leave their homes when their livelihoods and safety are jeopardized. What effects of climate change put them in jeopardy? Climate change triggers, among other problems, desertification and drought, <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/deforestation.htm" target="_blank">deforestation</a>, land degradation, rising sea levels, <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/nature/natural-disasters/flood.htm" target="_blank">floods</a>, more frequent and more extreme storms, <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/nature/natural-disasters/earthquake.htm" target="_blank">earthquakes</a>, <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/nature/natural-disasters/volcano.htm" target="_blank">volcanoes</a>, food insecurity and famine.</p><p>The September <a href="http://visionofhumanity.org/app/uploads/2020/09/ETR_2020_web-1.pdf" target="_blank">2020 Ecological Threat Register Report</a>, by the Institute for Economics & Peace, predicts the hardest hit populations will be:</p><ul><li>Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa</li><li>Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Chad, India and Pakistan (which are among the world's least peaceful countries)</li><li>Pakistan, Ethiopia and Iran are most at risk for mass displacements</li><li>Haiti faces the highest risk of all countries in Central America and the Caribbean</li><li>India and China will be among countries experiencing high or extreme water stress</li></ul>
- Think Today's Refugee Crisis is Bad? Climate Change Will Make it a ... ›
- Climate Change Forces 20 Million People to Flee Each Year, Oxfam ... ›
- Meet the World's First Climate Refugees - EcoWatch ›
In his latest documentary, My Octopus Teacher, free diver and filmmaker Craig Foster tells a unique story about his friendship and bond with an octopus in a kelp forest in Cape Town, South Africa. It's been labeled "the love story that we need right now" by The Cut.
- You're Not So Different From an Octopus: Rethinking Our ... ›
- 'Eating Animals' Drives Home Where Our Food Really Comes From ... ›