In previous posts I have explained the controversy of using antibiotics in agricultural livestock in regards to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance. The issue becomes fuzzy though when we try to separate just how much the use of antibiotics contributes directly to resistant infections among producers and consumers. So should we even try to think of solutions to this problem? The answer remains yes. Even though I cannot give the measurable impact on human health that is attributed to agricultural antibiotic use, we know that the more antibiotics we use, the more resistance we will have. At the end of the day, we should be trying to limit the amount of human induced resistance and the agricultural industry can be a part of this process. There are many arguments for completely banning antibiotic use in livestock. I find this to be too extreme. Animals get sick and it is the farmer’s duty to help those animals. Sometimes antibiotics are a part of that process. If antibiotics are used for genuine medical purposes, farmers and veterinarians should be opting for drugs that are only used in animals, rather than in both humans and animals. If we reserve antibiotics that can be used in only humans for human purposes, we can lessen the pressure on bacteria to become resistant. If drug companies continue to rely on current products, rather than research new antibiotics, we will desperately need what few we have to treat human infections. While treating infection is a completely acceptable use for antibiotics, they should not be used for inducing animal growth with no other purpose other than to get fatter animals with a smaller amount of feed. Yes economics would push for the greatest return with the smallest investment, but there are other players in the game. The total cost of antibiotic-resistant infections on the globe would far exceed the costs of having to add another bag of feed to the trough. Furthermore, we should be pushing the agricultural industry to improve conditions for livestock rather than compensate for filthy, disease-promoting environments with a herd or flock-wide dose of antibiotics. Again economics drives farmers to make the biggest profit, as do consumers who always seek the lowest price, but the cost on public health and the future of medicine isn’t worth it. Finally, we must encourage the academic and research communities to continue the investigation on the impact of antibiotic use in agricultural livestock on human health. Consistent data collection techniques, controlled trials, and long-term studies would all be useful in understanding more about this problem. Until more people begin to tackle this problem, however, we will remain in the dark about the consequences of our agricultural choices.
August 7, 2015 by