A new report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), states that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) lack of regulation of administering “high risk” antibiotics to farm animals, poses a serious health risk to humans. The drugs fed to farm animals inadvertently promote the dangerous growth and spread of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria in people.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is estimated that every year in the United States, “at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of these infections. Many more people die from other conditions that were complicated by an antibiotic-resistant infection.” Although a percentage of these causalities are due to doctors overprescribing antibiotics to their patients, the overuse of antibiotics in meat production plays a significant role.
Since 1970, the FDA has been looking at antibiotics in farm animals. The agency convened a joint task force of experts that eventually found that the use of antibiotics in livestock could lead to “resistant strains of bacteria that could threaten human health.” Farmers feed or inject animals with antibiotics that kill off or suppresses susceptible bacteria, but allows antibiotic-resistant bacteria to thrive. These drugs are not prescribed by veterinarians for therapeutic use to save or heal sick livestock, but rather are administered to healthy animals in low doses in their food and water, for the purpose of increasing their weight, or to help them survive the overcrowded conditions of an industrialized factory farm.
Antibiotic resistant bacteria may be transmitted to people through the food supply, such as the fertilizer or water used on crops. Also, the bacteria can remain on meat and spread to humans if the food is not handled or cooked properly. Humans who consume meat from animals who have been fed or injected with antibiotics may develop antibiotic-resistant bacteria in their intestine, or stomach, which can be life threatening.
By using FDA documents acquired through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the NRDC found that the “agency allowed 30 potentially harmful antibiotics – 18 rated as ‘high-risk‘ by the FDA itself – to remain on the market for uses as additives in livestock feed and water.” In 2001, “FDA experts began reviewing the 30 livestock feed additives already in use that contained penicillin or tetracyclines.” The internal FDA documents uncovered by the NRDC show that agency experts found that 26 of the 30 additives had never even met the initial 1973 safety criteria, which “required drug manufacturers to prove the safety of antibiotics used in animal feed and water.” Also, the agency found that “18 of the 30 additives posed a “high risk” of exposing human beings to antibiotic-resistant bacteria through the food chain.”
Although the FDA claims that it is taking new measures to control the use of antibiotics on farm animals, it is unlikely that any changes will be made in the near future without a legal mandate. It has already been more than four decades since they were aware of the danger that the administration of antibiotics on farm animals posed on human health.