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New Concern Over Use of Antibiotics In Animals

New reports find that animals are getting more antibiotics than previously thought, raising the risk of resistant bacteria appearing in humans. Dr. Emily Senay tells us more about this new concern.

Our first line of defense against harmful bacteria are antibiotics, powerful drugs that have saved countless lives in the fight against a whole range of diseases. The problem is some bacteria in farm animals have become resistant to antibiotics given to the animals. And a new report from concerned scientists is claiming that we are feeding animals much more quantity of antibiotic than previously thought.

Up until now figures from the drug industry estimated 35% of all antibiotics are fed to farm animals. The new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists puts that percentage as high as 70%, which if true, could mean a much greater chance of creating drug-resistant strains of bacteria.

Why are we feeding antibiotics to animals?

Antibiotics are not just used to treat sick animals, it is also a widely accepted practice in this country to feed antibiotics to farm animals at low levels to promote growth and prevent infection. Farmers argue that it prevents potentially devastating fast-spreading outbreaks of disease among animals kept in close quarters.

But the problem is that over time that constant use can help breed strains of drug-resistant bacteria in those animals, and the new report estimates as much as 25 million pounds of antibiotics are used in animals every year.

How does drug-resistant bacteria in animals threaten human beings?

The problem for human beings arises because when the animals are slaughtered for human consumption, the drug resistant bacteria can survive in the meat. And if raw meat is not kept properly or cooked properly, the bacteria can infect the person who handles or eats it. And the same antibiotics that become useless in the animals are also useless to treat sick humans.

Why are the two estimates so different?

The drug industry used widely accepted figure of fifty million pounds of antibiotic produced each year and subtracted the sales figures to livestock farms. But the authors of the report calculated their figures using estimates of the numbers of animals in the country and dosage requirements per animal.

Are there any efforts underway to solve the problem?

The US Food and Drug Administration is planning to hold meetings at the end of this month to discuss the issue of antibiotic use in animals.

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