Antibiotic-resistant Bacteria and human health
8 March, 2012
Rampant use of antibiotics in animal agriculture means foodborne illnesses are likely to become longer, more serious, and harder to treat, according to the non-profit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).
In three major outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant foodborne illness in 2011, 167 Americans became sick, 47 were hospitalized, and one died, according to a white paper released by the group today. Two of those outbreaks were connected to ground turkey, one contaminated with Salmonella Hadar and one with Salmonella Heidelberg, and one outbreak was connected to ground beef contaminated with Salmonella Typhimurium. All of those bacteria were resistant to treatment from several antibiotics that are critically important to human medicine, including drugs in the penicillin, cephalosporin, and tetracycline families.
Antibiotic resistance is an inevitable consequence of antibiotic use, according to the CSPI report. The more antibiotics are used, the more bacteria will develop resistance - often to more than one drug at a time. Pigs, chickens, and cattle are often administered antibiotics in their feed or water, to promote growth or to prevent diseases caused by overcrowding and unsanitary conditions, according to CSPI. Exacerbating the problem is that farmers in the U.S. can obtain and administer antibiotics without prescriptions or veterinary oversight.
The drug industry produced more than 29 million pounds of antimicrobial drugs approved for use in food animals, according to the Food and Drug Administration. CSPI says that food animals consume 80 percent of all antibiotics used in the United States and that 65 percent of those antibiotics are similar or identical to those used in human medicine.
CSPI’s review of antibiotic-resistant foodborne illness outbreaks shows that outbreaks were most common in dairy products, with 12 such outbreaks since 1973, and ground beef, with 10 outbreaks. Four outbreaks were linked to poultry, with ground turkey appearing for the first time as a source of antibiotic-resistant bacteria with the two 2011 outbreaks linked to Jennie-O and Cargill products.