Myth: Animal Agriculture is the Biggest Contributor to Antibiotic Resistance


Though CDC emphasized the need for good antibiotic stewardship among livestock and poultry farmers, according to the CDC’s 2013 report on Antibiotic Resistant Threats in the United States[1], the number one contributing factor to the development of antimicrobial resistance is overuse in humans,. In a 2013 press conference, CDC’s Director Michael Frieden, M.D., said, “The most acute problem is in hospitals. And the most resistant organisms in hospitals are emerging in those settings, because of poor antimicrobial stewardship among humans. [2]” The CDC estimates that half of antibiotic prescriptions written to people are unnecessary.

The FDA and CDC have each made antibiotic stewardship a key part of their work. They are working with health care providers to encourage proper antibiotic use for conditions that antibiotics can effectively treat. For instance doctors are being encouraged not to give antibiotics for common colds or coughs because evidence has shown that antibiotics are not an effective treatment.

On the animal side, FDA has issued guidance to eliminate the use of antibiotics for growth promotion purposes. Under FDA guidance, antibiotics to treat, control or prevent illnesses in animals will need to be prescribed by a veterinarian.

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Antibiotic resistance is a complex issue, but any antibiotic use in any setting potentially contributes to it. Each time an antibiotic is given to people or animals, sensitive bacteria are destroyed; however, bacteria that are resistant or tolerant to the antibiotic may only be injured or suffer no ill effects. These bacteria may then be left to grow and multiply. The CDC says repeated and improper uses of antibiotics are primary causes of the increase in drug-resistant bacteria. This happens because bacteria that survive an antibiotic are potentially able to adapt and fight off the same antibiotic if exposed again.

It is important to recognize that antibiotics designed for bacterial infections are not effective in treating for viral infections like colds and flu. Patients should talk with their doctors about whether an antibiotic is an appropriate treatment for their illness. It’s also important to follow the instructions when taking an antibiotic. Don’t skip doses or stop taking it if you feel better, and don’t take someone else’s prescription. These steps can all help reduce antibiotic resistance.

When it comes to meat safety, meat from animals that have received or not received antibiotics are both equally safe to consumer, because animal antibiotics require a withdrawal from the antibiotic a certain amount of time prior to slaughter so the antibiotic may clear the animal’s system. . But for those who are concerned, many meat companies offer a “raised without antibiotics” or an organic option in the meat case. Either way, any bacteria, whether antibiotic resistant or not, are killed through proper cooking of the meat. You should always check doneness with a meat thermometer to ensure it has been cooked to the proper temperature.

It is also important to recognize that antibiotic residues in meat are very rare. Under FDA rules, farmers and ranchers must wait a defined period to send animals to market if they have been given antibiotics. In meat and poultry plants, USDA inspectors sample carcasses and organs to ensure no residue violations are found – and they almost never are, with 99 percent of samples testing negative. [3]

Some people have expressed concern about methicillin-resistantStaphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in meat products. According to CDC, the most serious MRSA infections are usually attributed to exposure during healthcare and the remainder are typically community acquired through contact with an infected person. As the CDC’s web site notes, “Anyone can get MRSA through direct contact with an infected wound or by sharing personal items, such as towels or razors, that have touched infected skin. MRSA infection risk can be increased when a person is in activities or places that involve crowding, skin-to-skin contact, and shared equipment or supplies. This might include athletes, daycare and school students, military personnel in barracks, and those who recently received inpatient medical care.”[4]

CDC does not consider MRSA a foodborne pathogen; it is a human contact pathogen. But remember, bacteria on meat and poultry, whether antibiotic resistant or not, are destroyed through cooking. That means that basic safe handling practices in the kitchen, like hand washing, separating raw and ready-to-eat foods and thorough cooking, are your best line of defense.

See Also:
Myth: Antibiotic Use In Livestock Production Is Increasing And This Is A Human Health Risk
Myth: 80% of Antibiotics are Used in Animals
Myth: Antibiotics are Primarily Used for Growth Promotion
Myth: Animal Agriculture is the Biggest Contributor to Antibiotic Resistance
Myth: Antibiotics are Used in Animal Agriculture to Cover Up for Unsanitary Conditions