Antibiotics are among the most important discoveries in the last century, and we've certainly gotten a lot of use out of them. In many ways, we overdid it, leading to an alarming rise in the number of superbugs.
Antibiotics are among the most important discoveries in the last century, and we've certainly gotten a lot of use out of them. In many ways, we overdid it, leading to an alarming rise in the number of superbugs. With few new drugs in the pipeline that might bail us out, it's essential to cut usage.
One of the more gratuitous abuses involves regularly treating food-producing animals with a cocktail of antibiotics for quicker weight gain and growth. Anywhere from 17.8 to 24.6 million pounds per year are given to agricultural animals for nontherapeutic purposes. That's over 50 percent of total antibiotics used. Couple those astonishing numbers with crowded, unsanitary conditions in industrial farms, and you get the perfect breeding ground for drug resistant bacteria.
These super bugs can travel from the farm to consumers in multiple ways. Animal waste can seep into ground water; farmers can introduce bacteria into their communities; and contaminated meats can end up in your kitchen. For example, in 2003, 20 percent of human MRSA cases in the Netherlands were linked to pigs that transmitted the bacteria to their handlers.
Instead of relying on antibiotics, it's far better to change farming practices, like improve hygiene and administer vaccinations. Denmark banned the nontherapeutic, agricultural use of antibiotics that are important to humans in 1999, and the European Union followed in 2006. The FDA is currently finalizing guidelines. Over the summer, the FDA invited public comments on its draft guidance. More than 150,000 people responded, making it clear that consumers are worried about how agricultural antibiotic abuse will undermine public health. In creating the final guidelines, let's hope that the FDA will listen to public concern and the recommendations of health experts to set strong, conscientious limits on antibiotic use in industrial farming.