factory farms
December 12, 2013

Antibiotics in Livestock


Scott: Did you know that some of the food you eat has antibiotics in it? You know the medicine you take to help fight off a sickness? Well, Maggie Rulli is about to show us how the livestock industry’s use of the meds might be making it harder for people to stay healthy.

Maggie: At least once in your life, you have probably taken antibiotics, prescription drugs to help people fight off an infection. But for decades, they have also been added to animal feed as a way to increase growth in poultry, cattle and pigs.

One consumer advocacy group estimates that 80% of all antibiotics in the United States are used not by humans but by farm animals. The more often antibiotics are used, the more likely bacteria will become resistant to the drugs, meaning the drugs no longer work to fight off infections. Illnesses caused by this resistant bacteria have become harder to treat and more likely to be fatal.

Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control said antibiotic-resistant bacteria is responsible for 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths every year in the United States. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration has said ‘governments around the world consider antimicrobial-resistant bacteria a major threat to public health.’

In a report released by the Food and Drug Administration in April, antibiotic-resistant bacteria was found in 81% of raw ground turkey, 69% of pork chops, 55% of ground beef and 39% of the chicken that the FDA tested.

Dr. William Schaffner is an infectious disease specialist with Vanderbilt University.

Dr. William Schaffner: The fewer antibiotics we use in our animal food, the better it is for us, because we infectious disease doctors are having a harder and harder time treating patients with important infections.

Maggie: Now, for the first time, the FDA is taking steps to limit the use of antibiotics in animals by asking drug companies to voluntarily change their labeling. The new mandate would eliminate over-the-counter use of antibiotics for the main purpose of boosting growth in healthy animals. Antibiotics could only be used to treat or prevent disease and must be prescribed by a veterinarian. So far, the two main companies that produce animal feed with antibiotics have agreed to comply with the new rules.

The deputy commissioner of the FDA, Dr. Michael Taylor, says these steps will improve human health.

Dr. Michael Taylor: It’s really focusing on those antibiotics that are important in human medicine and reducing the likelihood that disease-causing bacteria become resistant to these antibiotics and therefore are no longer effective in treating people.

Maggie: But consumer advocates say these voluntary changes don’t go far enough.

Jean Halloran: We have urged the FDA to take a much stronger position and to actually prohibit the use of antibiotics in animals except for disease treatment.

Maggie: Maggie Rulli, Channel One News.

Scott: The FDA is asking drug companies to decide within the next three months whether they will follow the new federal recommendations.


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