Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria: From Farms to Forks and Beyond

David Wallinga, M.D.
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

We live in a world where drug-resistant “superbugs” are getting meaner and more common. These superbugs used to be found almost exclusively in hospitals in the form of life-threatening infections. They are now popping up in communities among healthy children and adults.

To combat this problem, we have to stop using or supporting the unnecessary use of antibiotics wherever possible —“ in hospitals, at home and on the farm. Charles Darwin noted this problem more than a century ago, explaining that the more we expose the bacteria around us to antibiotics, the quicker the bacteria will become resistant.

Therefore, it is especially concerning that some 70% of all antibiotics and related drugs used in the US each year are given to beef cattle, hogs and poultry – not for the treatment of disease, but as feed additives. These feed additives are used to promote slightly faster growth and to help compensate for often overcrowded and stressful conditions on industrial-scale farms. In addition, more than half of these antibiotic feed additives are nearly identical to human medicines, including penicillins, tetracyclines, and erythromycin-like medicines.

Most antibiotic feed additives pass into animal’s manure, causing more than just a problem of food safety, but an ecological crisis. Using antibiotics originally created for the treatment of infections as feed additives, accelerates the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in our food, air and water. Minnesota, the nation’s largest turkey producer and third largest hog producer, directly contributes to this problem. Many of these farmers use antibiotic feed additives. Don’t blame the farmers; they often are locked into contracts where the ultimate purchasers specifies or even delivers the feed!

Fortunately, there is a better way to do things. Organic producers have long avoided the use of antibiotic feed additives. Under the organic label, these feed additives are specifically prohibited. The number of organic meat producers in Minnesota are growing. In addition, Minnesota should be striving towards Denmark’s success. Denmark is the world’s largest exporter of pork and has completely phased out the use of antibiotics as feed additives.

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Find these articles online here

Impacts of Antimicrobial Growth Promoter Termination in Denmark, report number WHO/CDS/CPE/ZFK/2003.1. World Health Organization. 2003.

Microbial Threats to Health: Emergence, Detection, and Response, National Academy of Sciences/Institute of Medicine Global Board on Health, National Academies Press, 2003.

Act Locally
Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy
Food and Health Program
Minneapolis, MN

Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota
Starbuck, MN, 866-760-8732

Antibiotic Animal Feed

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