Antibiotics in Your Food: What You Need To Know

Publication: The Huffington Post

Author: Marcia G. Yerman


02/23/2012 - During the height of the cold weather months, people count on antibiotics to fight bacterial infections. What they may not know is that current overuse and misuse of antibiotics is making bacteria more rapidly resistant to "essential antibiotics."

This scenario has all the elements of a modern science-fiction movie: monied interests, public health, government officials, unheeded warnings, and citizens getting vocal.

Playing a leading role in bringing awareness to the American people is The Pew Charitable Trusts, a non-profit that focuses on "improving public policy and informing the public." They have been using a multi-pronged social media campaign to amplify the problem with an awareness website, saveantibiotics.org, a petition on change.org, and an outreach campaign to alert mothers.

They are not alone in their apprehensions. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has stated that "antibiotic resistance" is among its top concerns. In a 2010 Congressional hearing, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Department of Agriculture (USDA) -- along with the CDC -- testified that a definitive link existed between antibiotic resistance in people and the "routine non-therapeutic use of antibiotic in industrial farming."

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I called up Pew to find out more.

I spoke with Gail R. Hansen, Senior Officer with The Pew Charitable Trusts. A veterinarian who has served in private clinical practice, as well as in local and state public health departments, she walked me through the matter, offering succinct statements that helped to crystallize the problem.

"Animals are kept in small, confined spaces," she told me. "It's not the best hygiene." She noted that in the European Union they had stopped using antibiotics to make animals grow faster. "It's about changing practices," she clarified, "and not trying to fit animals in our needs."

Discussing the lack of oversight, Hansen detailed, "Most people don't realize that antibiotics can be gotten over-the-counter by farmers and ranchers. There is no regulation." This means that the same antibiotics humans depend on can be in an animal's daily feed. Succinctly, Hansen said, "The antibiotics being used to make healthy animals grow faster are the same [ones] we count on to get well." She observed, "A woman takes an antibiotic for a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI). However, the antibiotics may not work for the woman because she may be eating meat or poultry that has antibiotic resistant bacteria. The meat we eat may be a source of the bacteria that cause UTI infections. There is a connection between the meat you eat and the antibiotics you take for a UTI. It may not be obvious, but it's there."

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Read the full article, Antibiotics in Your Food: What You Need To Know, on the Huffington Post's Web site.

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