The United States uses nearly 30 million pounds of antibiotics annually in food production. Livestock antibiotic use accounts for 80 percent of the total antibiotics sold in the US, and unnecessary use of antibiotics in food animals (cows, pigs, chickens, and turkeys) is a major driving force behind the rampant development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Compare this to the 6 million pounds of antibiotics that are used for every man, woman and child in the US combined. But unlike human use, in which antibiotics are prescribed to treat serious infection, in animals, drugs such as penicillins and tetracyclines are routinely added to animal feed as a cheap way to make the animals grow faster.
The primary reason why concentrated animal feedlot operations (CAFOs) are such hotbeds for breeding antibiotic-resistant bacteria is because of the continuous feeding of low doses of antibiotics to the animals, which allows pathogens to survive, adapt, and eventually, thrive.
In short, American food producers are trading slightly reduced production costs (i.e. more meat per animal) for more lethal illnesses – both in animals and humans. Just one of several now resistant pathogens, Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA), is responsible for more than 94,000 infections and 18,000 deaths in the US each year!
Food Producers Now Responsible for Rapid Increase in Lethal Diseases
To combat the dramatic rise in antibiotic-resistant disease, the most important step is to curb the misuse of antibiotics in food production. Sure, we need to start prescribing antibiotics more judiciously in the medical setting as well, but when you consider that medical use of antibiotics accounts for just 20 percent of all the antibiotics sold each year, it makes sense to restrict the primary culprit the hardest, or else we’ll never make a dent in this problem.