Drug use in livestock continues to be a contentious issue, due to lowering supplies and increasing drug resistance.
According to the Los Angeles Times, only 20% of antibiotic use in the U.S are given to people with medical problems, such as pneumonia or infections. The remaining percentile is given to food animals, defended by farmers as a means to ensure protection from disease and as a means to promote more rapid growth.
Prophylactic methods of disease prevention in livestock is now an issue that the FDA -- the U.S Food and Drug administration -- seems willing to tackle.
Two recent rulings by the FDA concerning drug use in livestock are:
- Dec. 22, the FDA banned procedures that might have ended the practice of feeding penicillin and tetracycline to livestock.
- Jan. 4, the FDA issued an order that prohibits certain uses of an antibiotics group used to treat infections in people.
Contradictory as these regulations appear, one could argue at the very least the agency is now showing interest in the long-standing issue. According to reports, by banning procedures that may have prevented the use of penicillin for livestock, there are grounds to introduce a far wider scope of regulation.
Pathogen resistance is expanding globally. The need for research and development of more drugs rises, and patients become more difficult and expensive to treat. Although there are only tenable links between this trend and what we put on our plates, some governments are beginning to take measures in the hope of controlling increased pathogen resistance as much as possible.
The European Union is included within this group, encouraging farmers to use alternative measures such as homeopathy to keep livestock healthy, investing £1.8 million (USD $2.8 million) in homeopathy research projects.
Bacteria can become resistant to antibiotics through overexposure. This, in turn, can create evolved strains of surviving pathogens that pass on resistant traits to following generations. Not only this, but it is possible that hardy traits can become merged with unrelated bacteria and diseases. Drugs, therefore, lose their effectiveness.
However, some advocates of the drug use argue that changing the regulations may result in serious consequences. Veterinarians may lose valuable tools used to treat sick animals, and if one waits until visible signs of illness occur, herds may be at far higher infectious risk -- potentially at severe cost to the farmer and causing a shortened supply of livestock.
There are also barriers that prevent you getting ill from ingested pathogens once the food is ingested, Liz Wagstrom, chief veterinarian for the National Pork Producers Council suggests. Pathogens would have to contaminate the meat at slaughter, survive cooking and be ingested in a powerful enough dose to make the consumer sick.
There may not be enough evidence on either side of the long-term effects of prophylactic drug use in livestock, and how it will affect future disease resistance. The FDA may simply be over-cautious, or we may not realize the damage over-using antibiotics now will affect future generations.
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