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Human antibiotics in animals

It is common practice for farms in the United States to use antibiotics on healthy animals in order to stimulate growth and inhibit disease in what are typically crowded and unsanitary conditions (ConsumersUnion.org). For the most part, this has led to a dramatic reduction in infectious disease-related illnesses and deaths in humans. However, experts are now beginning to realize the scary consequences of this practice—namely, superbugs.

According to Consumer’s Union, “When you feed antibiotics to animals, the bacteria in and around the animals are exposed to the drug, and many of them die. But there are always some that the drug can’t kill, and those survive and proliferate. Voila, superbugs.”

These superbugs are a major concern for humans because they are transferred to people through their meat and poultry and the environment, and they give humans a resistance to antibiotics that are often prescribed.

The Center for Disease Control warns of several negative effects of this resistance. People with these infections may be more likely to be hospitalized and have higher medical expenses, may take longer to get well again, or may even die from the infection.

A Consumer Reports testing of retail poultry products in both 2009 and 2010 revealed a widespread presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria (i.e., superbugs). Both tests showed that over two-thirds of the samples were contaminated with salmonella and/or campylobacter. For the most part, this is not a concern because if the poultry is cooked thoroughly, the bacteria will die.

However, there is always the threat of the uncooked meat contaminating other food in the fridge, the cutting board, the kitchen counters/sink and other surfaces. Consumer Reports estimates that 48 million cases of foodborne illnesses occur annually in the US. For instance, in 2011, a strain of salmonella was found in ground turkey and was resistant to four different antibiotics: ampicillin, streptomycin, tetracycline and gentamicin. This caused 136 illnesses and one death.

Many health organizations, like the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the World Health Organization, are now urging for a reduction/elimination of antibiotics in food production. Hopefully, over the next 10-15 years animal food production companies will respond accordingly and eliminate the use of human-grade antibiotics in their animals.

One company that has addressed this issue is ORU’s very own food supplier Sodexo.

“Over the next eight years through 2024, Sodexo will continue to work with its U.S. suppliers to further improve the welfare of the broiler chickens it sources by reaching the following goals for 100% of the chicken it sources.” (PR Newswire)

Sodexo has recently made commitments to eliminate human-class antibiotics from production of its broiler chickens, completing the first phase of this process in 2017. It is important to be aware of what is being added to meat and poultry products. Practically, remaining educated on the methods of production within food companies is the best way to avoid the harmful effects of antibiotics in animals.