The United States consumes more than 50 tons of antibiotics a day—80% of which is not used for humans.
Rather, about 40 tons goes to promote agricultural production, such as giving antibiotics to cattle and chickens.
This practice has dire ramifications for human health, two experts warn, as the abundance of antibiotics in the food chain has resulted in drug-resistant bacteria that can leave people vulnerable to infections and other illnesses.
“Antimicrobial resistance is a critical threat to public health,” Aidan Hollis and Ziana Ahmed wrote in The New England Journal of Medicine. “The value of antibiotics for human health is immeasurable.”
Hollis, an economics professor at the University of Calgary, and Ahmed, an economist at the University of Toronto, estimated the U.S. goes through 51 tons of antibiotics a day. They estimate that each year The U.S. uses 13,540,000 kilograms (kg) for livestock, 3,290,000 kg for humans, 150,000 for aquaculture, 150,000 kg for pets and 70,000 kg for crops.
But, “the main use of this invaluable resource is rather disappointing: approximately 80% of antibiotics in the United States are consumed in agriculture and aquaculture,” they wrote.
Hollis and Ahmed say there is “a great deal of concern” that the overuse of antibiotics is “contributing to the development and spread of resistant organisms. Agricultural industry groups, in line with their short-term financial interests, argue that there is no conclusive proof that the antibiotics used in agriculture harm human health. Unfortunately, evidence is mounting that resistant pathogens are emerging and being selected for at least partly because of nonhuman uses of antibiotics”
Farmers and other agricultural industry groups have come to rely too much on these drugs to boost food production and achieve short-term financial gains, Hollis and Ahmed say. One solution, they argue, would be to impose a user-fee on the non-human application of antibiotics. This would discourage farmers from overusing these medicines.
“Modern medicine relies on antibiotics to kill off bacterial infections,” Hollis told Homeland Security News Wire. “This is incredibly important. Without effective antibiotics, any surgery—even minor ones—will become extremely risky. Cancer therapies, similarly, are dependent on the availability of effective antimicrobials. Ordinary infections will kill otherwise healthy people.”
He added: “The real value of antibiotics is saving people from dying. Everything else is trivial.”
To Learn More:
Preserving Antibiotics, Rationally (by Aidan Hollis and Ziana Ahmed, New England Journal of Medicine)
Extensive Use of Antibiotics in Agriculture Creating Public Health Crisis (Homeland Security News Wire)
FDA Phase-Out of Livestock Antibiotics is Only Voluntary and Partial (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)
Failure to Curb Use of Antibiotics in Livestock Signals Danger for Humans (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
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