Feeding antibiotics to livestock is a double-edged sword - animals grow faster, but develop drug-resistant infections passed on to people. And the ongoing overuse has led to infections that killed more than 65,000 people in the US last year, theAssociated Press reports. And 70 percent of the 35 million pounds of antibiotics used last year went to pigs, chickens and cows. Worldwide, it's 50 percent. "This is a living breathing problem, it's the big bad wolf and it's knocking at our door," Vance Fowler, an infectious disease specialist at Duke University, tells the AP. "It's here. It's arrived."
America's farmers give livestock about 8 percent more antibiotics each year, usually to heal lung, skin or blood infections. But 13 percent of antibiotics administered on farms in 2008 were fed to healthy animals to make them grow faster, the AP writes, adding that antibiotics save up to 30 percent in feed costs among young swine, but savings fade as pigs get older, according to a new USDA study.
Meanwhile, the AP continues, more than 20 percent of all human cases of a deadly drug-resistant staph infection in the Netherlands could be traced to an animal strain, according to a study published online in a CDC journal. The news service adds that US food safety studies routinely find drug resistant bacteria in beef, chicken and pork sold in supermarkets, and 20 percent of people who get salmonella have a drug resistant strain, according to the CDC.
In response, pressure against antibiotic use in agriculture is rising, the AP notes. The World Health Organization concluded that antibiotic resistance is a leading threat to human health, and the White House said the problem is "urgent." One congresswoman proposed a bill to ban farmers from feeding antibiotics to their animals unless they are sick. New rules are being discussed in regulatory agencies. The European Union and other developed countries have adopted strong limits.
But drugmakers are battling back and spent $135 million lobbying last year, and agribusiness companies another $70 million, on a handful of issues including fighting the proposed new limits. Opponents from farm states say a ban is misguided.
"Chaos will ensue," Kansas Republican Congressman Jerry Moran tells the AP. "The cultivation of crops and the production of food animals is an immensely complex endeavor involving a vast range of processes. We raise a multitude of crops and livestock in numerous regions, using various production methods. Imagine if the government is allowed to dictate how all of that is done."
He's backed by the American Farm Bureau, the National Pork Producers Council, Eli Lilly, Bayer, Pfizer, Schering-Plough, Dow AgroSciences and Monsanto, which have repeatedly defeated similar legislation, according to the AP.
The FDA says without new laws its options are limited, the AP continues, noting the agency approved antibiotic use in animals in 1951, before concerns about drug resistance were recognized. But, the report points out, the only way to withdraw that approval is through a drug-by-drug process that can take years of study, review and comment.
Piggy thx to Brent & MariLynn Flickr creative commons