Antibiotic Overuse

August 10th, 2011 | Simcha Weinstein | 2 Comments »

Most consumers are under the impression that the use of antibiotics in meat is only seen as necessary if an animal gets sick. This would make the most sense, but their usage has expanded over the years as farm size has increased. In mass production feed lots and other non-organic meat production facilities the animals are given antibiotics constantly, sick or not, day in and day out.

Antibiotics are administered to factory-farmed animals for 2 key reasons:

1. Large concentrations of animals shoved together in cramped and unnatural conditions get sick, quickly spreading disease. Preventative antibiotics keep this in check.

2. With cattle, antibiotics help steers tolerate the corn they’re intensively fed to fatten up. These animals are ruminants, designed by nature to be eating grass, not corn, which can make them very ill and even kill them.

By virtue of how they are raised, organic animals have much stronger immune systems and seldom get sick. This understanding was confirmed by a new study lead by the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria have become a problem for health care providers whose choices become limited in treating infection in humans, but there hasn’t been enough data on the sources. So, researchers say the findings are very important.

Here’s how it works. When we eat animals, we’re ingesting residues of the drugs they have been administered. Of particular concern by leading scientists are the increased risks of hormonal cancers: breast, prostate, and testicular. The big concern with antibiotics is if a group of animals is treated with a certain antibiotic over time, the bacteria living in those animals will become resistant to that drug. When this happens, the problem for humans is that if a person ingests the resistant bacteria through improperly cooked meat and becomes ill, he or she may not respond to antibiotic treatment. This process has become such a legitimate threat that it even has its own name: Superbug.

This new study suggests that restricting antibiotic use from large-scare poultry farms can reduce resistance for some bacteria quickly.

“We initially hypothesized that we would see some differences in on-farm levels of antibiotic-resistant enterococci when poultry farms transitioned to organic practices,” said Dr. Amy R. Sapkota, an assistant professor with the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health in the School of Public Health. “But we were surprised to see that the differences were so significant across several different classes of antibiotics even in the very first flock that was produced after the transition to organic standards. It is very encouraging.”

The researchers from Maryland, Pennsylvania State University and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health tested for the common chicken enterococci bacteria in poultry litter feed and water in 10 conventional and 10 newly organic poultry houses in the mid-Atlantic region. Then they tested resistance to 17 common antimicrobials.

All farms tested positive for the bacteria, however, the organic farms had much less of the antibiotic-resistant enterococci. With more organic farms over time, the researcher say they would expect drug-resistance to drop much more dramatically. Good news for the world of organic and natural beef! We need more studies like these… and we need for them to be taken seriously.