Post 2: From the Public Health Official’s Perspective

In my first blog post, I discussed the issue of antibiotic use in livestock from a farmer’s perspective. For the farmer, it boils down to economics. Antibiotics help to promote growth and limit infection. A healthy herd/flock leads to greater output which leads to greater profits. The issue becomes more complicated, however, when we view it from a public health official’s perspective. Health agencies such as the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention all agree that antibiotic resistance is one of the greatest public health threats we currently face. There is also agreement about the fact that increased antibiotic use is directly correlated to increased antibiotic resistance. This is what leads our pubic health official down to the farm. The ultimate question is how antibiotic use in livestock impacts human health. The greatest concern is the transfer of resistant genes from the bacterial flora of livestock through meat to humans. The routes of transfer are extremely complicated and often confounded by other factors making the assessment of the public health impact far from simple. From the articles I’ve read, a third agreement surfaces: there is no consensus about the impact of antibiotic use in agriculture on human health. This is where my research really feels like research. There are conflicting ideas and conclusions, barely any consistent data collection techniques, and few articles from the last couple of years. Moving forward I have the goals of clarifying the routes by which resistance genes can move between livestock and humans, better quantify the amount of impact agricultural antibiotic use has on resistance, and possible courses of action for the future. Stay tuned!

Comments

  1. ekamato says:

    Micayla,

    This is a fascinating research topic!

    Thank you for explaining the many conflicting perspectives on the topic of antibiotic use.

    Have you considered taking a look at who is funding the research that backs each of the stances? The disagreement among perspectives reminds me strongly of what took place when cigarettes were still in the process of being linked to cancer–cigarette companies were found to have funded research that “proved” tobacco to be harmless.

    What information have you found from government sources? Politics could be at play here…

    I look forward to hearing more about your findings.

  2. mmmenchel says:

    Thanks for your questions! I have not looked into the funding beyond some of the research that intensely. In fact, many of the articles I read were originally published in Europe or pulled from data collected in Europe. In the United States, politics is absolutely at play, the conflicts of government intervention, economic freedom, and the threat to public safety leading to many disagreements. In general, however, the government is at least aware and acting concerned about agriculture’s effect on public health and antibiotic-resistance. There have been fairly recent conferences, focused particularly on resistance, that have looked into agricultural antibiotic use. What they will do with these conversations and arguments is something only they can decide.