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The Hidden Health Hazards of Antibiotics in Meat
A related news story highlights one hidden source of antibiotics that can
have a significant and long-term impact on your gut flora and overall health.
Writing for the New York Times,8 David A. Kessler, former commissioner of the
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from 1990 to 1997, warns that antibiotic-
resistant pathogens in livestock are on the rise as a result of the fact
that, in the US, antibiotics are routinely fed to livestock not only to fight
infection, but to promote unhealthy (though profitable) weight gain.
“While the F.D.A. can see what kinds of antibiotic-resistant bacteria
are coming out of livestock facilities, the agency doesn’t know enough about
the antibiotics that are being fed to these animals,” he writes. “This is a
major public health problem, because giving healthy livestock these drugs
breeds superbugs that can infect people. We need to know more about the use
of antibiotics in the production of our meat and poultry. The results could
be a matter of life and death. ... It may sound counterintuitive, but feeding
antibiotics to livestock at low levels may do the most harm.
When he accepted the Nobel Prize in 1945
for his discovery ofpenicillin, Alexander Fleming warned that 'there is the
danger that theignorant man may easily underdose himself and by exposing
his microbes tononlethal quantities of the drug make them resistant.' He probably
could nothave imagined that, one day, we would be doing this to billions of animals
The link between antibiotic use in livestock and antibiotic-resistant disease is
so clear that the use of antibiotics as growth promoters in animalfeed has been
banned in Europe since 2006.9 In sharp contrast, according tothe first-ever report
by the FDA10 on the topic, confined animal feedingoperations (CAFOs) used a
whopping 29 million pounds of antibiotics in 2009,and according to Kessler,
that number had further risen to nearly 30 millionpounds in 2011, which
represents about 80 percent of all reported antibioticsales that year.
What’s more, on December 22, 2011, the FDA quietly posted a notice in the
Federal Register11 that it was effectively reneging on its plan to reduce the
use of antibiotics in agricultural animal feed – a plan it has been touting
Instead, the agency decided it will continue to allow livestock producers
to use the drugs in feed unabated. Only one class of antibiotics,
cephalosporin, has been restricted from use in livestock.12 This class of
antibiotics, which are regularly prescribed to humans, are implicated in the
development and spread of drug-resistant bacteria among humans that work
with, and/or eat, the animals. As of April 5, 2012, the antibiotics are no
longer be allowed for use in preventing diseases in livestock, although they
are still allowed for treatment of illness in livestock.
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