Skip to main content

Time to regulate use of antimicrobials in farm animals

Farms routinely use antimicrobials to prevent diseases and promote growth in agricultural animals. An estimated 17.8 to 24.6 million pounds per year are used for nontherapeutic purposes alone, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. The overuse of antimicrobials coupled with unsanitary farming practices provide ideal breeding conditions for multidrug resistant bacteria.

A recent report in Clinical Infections Diseases shows that drug resistance on the farm can be transferred to your kitchen.  Andrew Waters, the lead author, and his team from Northern Arizona University found that roughly one fourth of the meat samples collected from grocery stores had multidrug resistant staph (Staphylococcus aureus).

This report adds to the growing number of research results indicating that antimicrobial use in agricultural animals should be curbed. While the FDA is aware of these studies, they have yet to make any real moves to slow or prohibit the use of antimicrobials in agricultural animals.

Experts have long warned of the dangers in relying too much on antimicrobials in farming. They have advocated for more hygienic and humane practices, such as administering vaccines, to keep animals healthy. Unfortunately, these practices have yet to be widely adopted.

In the meantime, the development of new antibiotics is far too slow to meet the rise of drug resistant bacteria. Research into new antibiotics is costly and time consuming. Additionally, it does not offer financial incentives for pharmaceutical companies. For example, people only need to take antibiotics for short durations, while people would likely need psychiatric medication for most of their lives. You do the math on what's more lucrative.

I believe the time has come for the government to step in and give incentives to pharmaceutical companies for developing new antimicrobials, and fund academic research that leads us to better drug targets.

In addition, we need the FDA to place strict regulations on farming practices, particularly those for agricultural animals. Until that can happen, we can only hope that our luck holds and serious outbreaks of superbugs will not happen. At least with contaminated meats, we can rely on cooking to kill bacteria and good housekeeping practices to minimize contamination in the kitchen.

Related Links: