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.
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1. Stay Informed<p>A first order of business in pet evacuation planning is to understand and be ready for the possible threats in your area. Visit <a href="https://www.ready.gov/be-informed" target="_blank">Ready.gov</a> to learn more about preparing for potential disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. Then pay attention to related updates by tuning <a href="http://www.weather.gov/nwr/" target="_blank">NOAA Weather Radio</a> to your local emergency station or using the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/mobile-app" target="_blank">FEMA app</a> to get National Weather Service alerts.</p>
2. Ensure Your Pet is Easily Identifiable<p><span>Household pets, including indoor cats, should wear collars with ID tags that have your mobile phone number. </span><a href="https://www.avma.org/microchipping-animals-faq" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Microchipping</a><span> your pets will also improve your chances of reunion should you become separated. Be sure to add an emergency contact for friends or relatives outside your immediate area.</span></p><p>Additionally, use <a href="https://secure.aspca.org/take-action/order-your-pet-safety-pack" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">'animals inside' door/window stickers</a> to show rescue workers how many pets live there. (If you evacuate with your pets, quickly write "Evacuated" on the sticker so first responders don't waste time searching for them.)</p>
3. Make a Pet Evacuation Plan<p> "No family disaster plan is complete without including your pets and all of your animals," says veterinarian Heather Case in <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9NRJkFKAm4" target="_blank">a video</a> produced by the American Veterinary Medical Association.</p><p>It's important to determine where to take your pet in the event of an emergency.</p><p>Red Cross shelters and many other emergency shelters allow only service animals. Ask your vet, local animal shelters, and emergency management officials for information on local and regional animal sheltering options.</p><p>For those with access to the rare shelter that allows pets, CDC offers <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/emergencies/pets-in-evacuation-centers.html" target="_blank">tips on what to expect</a> there, including potential health risks and hygiene best practices.</p><p>Beyond that, talk with family or friends outside the evacuation area about potentially hosting you and/or your pet if you're comfortable doing so. Search for pet-friendly hotel or boarding options along key evacuation routes.</p><p>If you have exotic pets or a mix of large and small animals, you may need to identify multiple locations to shelter them.</p><p>For other household pets like hamsters, snakes, and fish, the SPCA recommends that if they normally live in a cage, they should be transported in that cage. If the enclosure is too big to transport, however, transfer them to a smaller container temporarily. (More on that <a href="https://www.spcai.org/take-action/emergency-preparedness/evacuation-how-to-be-pet-prepared" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.)</p><p>For any pet, a key step is to establish who in your household will be the point person for gathering up pets and bringing their supplies. Keep in mind that you may not be home when disaster strikes, so come up with a Plan B. For example, you might form a buddy system with neighbors with pets, or coordinate with a trusted pet sitter.</p>
4. Prepare a Pet Evacuation Kit<p>Like the emergency preparedness kit you'd prepare for humans, assemble basic survival items for your pets in a sturdy, easy-to-grab container. Items should include:</p><ul><li>Water, food, and medicine to last a week or two;</li><li>Water, food bowls, and a can opener if packing wet food;</li><li>Litter supplies for cats (a shoebox lined with a plastic bag and litter may work);</li><li>Leashes, harnesses, or vehicle restraints if applicable;</li><li>A <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/pet-first-aid-supplies-checklist" target="_blank">pet first aid kit</a>;</li><li>A sturdy carrier or crate for each cat or dog. In addition to easing transport, these may serve as your pet's most familiar or safe space in an unfamiliar environment;</li><li>A favorite toy and/or blanket;</li><li>If your pet is prone to anxiety or stress, the American Kennel Club suggests adding <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stress-relieving items</a> like an anxiety vest or calming sprays.</li></ul><p>In the not-unlikely event that you and your pet have to shelter in different places, your kit should also include:</p><ul><li>Detailed information including contact information for you, your vet, and other emergency contacts;</li><li>A list with phone numbers and addresses of potential destinations, including pet-friendly hotels and emergency boarding facilities near your planned evacuation routes, plus friends or relatives in other areas who might be willing to host you or your pet;</li><li>Medical information including vaccine records and a current rabies vaccination tag;</li><li>Feeding notes including portions and sizes in case you need to leave your pet in someone else's care;</li><li>A photo of you and your pet for identification purposes.</li></ul>
5. Be Ready to Evacuate at Any Time<p>It's always wise to be prepared, but stay especially vigilant in high-risk periods during fire or hurricane season. Practice evacuating at different times of day. Make sure your grab-and-go kit is up to date and in a convenient location, and keep leashes and carriers by the exit door. You might even stow a thick pillowcase under your bed for middle-of-the-night, dash-out emergencies when you don't have time to coax an anxious pet into a carrier. If forecasters warn of potential wildfire, a hurricane, or other dangerous conditions, bring outdoor pets inside so you can keep a close eye on them.</p><p>As with any emergency, the key is to be prepared. As the American Kennel Club points out, "If you panic, it will agitate your dog. Therefore, <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pet disaster preparedness</a> will not only reduce your anxiety but will help reduce your pet's anxiety too."</p>
Evacuating Horses and Other Farm Animals<p>The same basic principles apply for evacuating horses and most other livestock. Provide each with some form of identification. Ensure that adequate food, water, and medicine are available. And develop a clear plan on where to go and how to get there.</p><p>Sheltering and transporting farm animals requires careful coordination, from identifying potential shelter space at fairgrounds, racetracks, or pastures, to ensuring enough space is available in vehicles and trailers – not to mention handlers and drivers on hand to support the effort.</p><p>For most farm animals, the Red Cross advises that you consider precautionary evacuation when a threat seems imminent but evacuation orders haven't yet been announced. The American Veterinary Medical Association has <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/large-animals-and-livestock-disasters" target="_blank">more information</a>.</p>
Bottom Line: If You Need to Evacuate, So Do Your Pets<p>As the Humane Society warns, pets left behind in a disaster can easily be injured, lost, or killed. Plan ahead to make sure you can safely evacuate your entire household – furry members included.</p>
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