BY STEPHEN SEMUJJU
Antibiotics have been used since the 1940s and have led to a dramatic reduction in illness and death from infectious diseases, in both animals and humans.
However, the extensive use of antibiotic drugs has resulted in drug resistance that threatens to reverse the medical advances of the last seventy years.
In commercial agriculture, most of the livestock, including fish, now depend on antibiotics for their survival and commercial benefit to the farmer. However, the unfortunate bit is that these drugs do not end with the animals whose microbes they are intended to cure but wind up in the human food chain.
Although the meat and poultry production industries argue that there is no harm in this, it has been established that humans are at risk both due to potential presence of super bugs in meat and poultry, and the general migration of super bugs into the environment where they can transmit their genetic immunity to other bacteria.
Research has also shown that because the quantities of antibiotics in human food are not enough to kill microbes, the antibiotics only work to train the microbes how to survive in their presence, therefore causing antibiotic-resistant super bugs in humans.
In 1988, the Institute of Medicine (part of the US National Academy of Sciences) concluded that “although as yet sparse, data shows the flow of distinct salmonella clones from farm animals medicated with antibiotics in subtherapeutic concentrations, through food products, to humans, who thus acquire clinical salmonellosis.”
In 2012, the Food and Drug Authority (FDA) of the United States said that the misuse and overuse of antimicrobial drugs creates selective evolutionary pressure that enables resistant bacteria to increase in numbers more rapidly than antimicrobial susceptible bacteria.
In this way, it increases the chances of people being infected.
One of the most dramatic pieces of evidence came as a result of the FDA approval of a class of antibiotics that includes Cipro (ciprofloxacin), which has been used in poultry production since 1995.
By 1999, nearly 20 per cent of the chicken breasts sampled contained ciprofloxacin-resistant Camplobacter , a disease-causing bacterium.
After a long fight in the courts, the FDA finally banned the use of the drug in 2005.
When you feed antibiotics to animals, the bacteria in and around the animals are exposed to the drug, and many of them die.
But there are always some that the drug cannot kill, and those survive and multiply, but they are already super bugs.
The super bugs then move from the farm to the kitchen, via uncooked meat and poultry.
Super bugs can also spread beyond the farm and threaten public health through e n v i r o n m e n t a l transmission in lakes, wild animals, and the human digestive system.
It is for these reasons that the public health community and other agencies have been proposing to limit the use of antibiotics in livestock for more than three decades.
Adapted from the Overuse of Antibiotics in Food Animals: A Threat to Public Health.