American livestock farmers use nearly 30 million pounds of antibiotics each year in the raising of their animals.1,2 Most of these are raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs)—gigantic factory farms that hold many thousands of animals in a warehouse-style setting.
Overcrowding, lack of sanitation, stress, and an unnatural diet make CAFO animals prone to illness, and antibiotics are routinely added to their feed to combat disease. Antibiotics also have the side effect of promoting growth, making the animals grow fatter, faster, which is another reason for the drugs’ use.
This agricultural use accounts for about 80 percent of all antibiotics used in the US,3 making it a significant source of continuous low-dose exposure via your diet.
The best way to avoid this exposure is to buy animal products that have been raised according to organic standards, which includes being raised on pasture, as antibiotics are not permitted in organic farming.
The Hazards of Antibiotic Overexposure
Antibiotic usage in agriculture rose by 16 percent between 2009 and 2012,4 and nearly 70 percent of the antibiotics used are considered “medically important” for humans. The ramifications of this overuse are manifold:
1. Antibiotics are losing their viability in human medicine due to drug resistance, and without effective antibiotics, even minor infections can grow into lethal events
2. Food has become a major source of exposure to drug-resistant disease, which can be lethal
3. Antibiotics decimate your microbiome (important health-promoting bacteria in your gut). An unbalanced microbiome can contribute to both obesity and chronic disease
A 2013 paper5 by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) reports that between 1973 and 2011, more than half of the 55 antibiotic-resistant foodborne outbreaks in the US involved pathogens resistant to five or more antibiotics.
Researchers are now finding that when bacteria develop resistance to one drug, their ability to develop resistance to other drugs increases. This is why we’re now seeing a growth in multi-drug resistance, and this can make treating human disease really difficult.