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Carrington College Blog

Antibiotics in Meat Pose Risk to Public Health

April 6, 2015

Antibiotics found in meat could be contributing to future of dangerous super bugs.According to recent research examining global trends in meat consumption, antibiotics fed to animals used for meat are contributing to the potential for super bugs in the near future.

For medical professionals, such as certified pharmacy techs, this trend could be a much more urgent matter than previously realized.

In general, scientists, medical staff and policymakers have long known that overusing antibiotics can lead to strains of disease than can resist them, but their usage in livestock may be putting public health at risk.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, the new research cites increasing demand for meat across the globe as one of the main contributors to antibiotic resistance.1

Estimates by the team suggest that consumption of antibiotics will increase 67 percent by the year 2030, in part due to worldwide demand for meat. This trend has implications both in the U.S. and abroad and needs to be addressed on a global scale.

Research and Findings

According to the study, trends in raising and consuming livestock will account for one-third of the increase in antibiotic consumption over the coming fifteen years. While cattle may seem like a logical culprit, the team notes that poultry and pork are main contributors due to the animals having the ability to be raised quickly and in less space.

This is particularly relevant in fast-developing countries, because the demand for meat is rising and there are few regulations on the use of antimicrobials in livestock. The Atlantic points out that enforcing legislation regarding antibiotic usage in livestock provides an additional challenge.

However, the largest challenge facing scientists and medical professionals appears to be adoption of alternative livestock practices. Super bugs that can resist antibiotics are often not spread directly by consumption. Instead, diseases build up strength on farms and other breeding grounds and then fall into circulation via food distribution or another channel.

For this reason, researchers state that extensive measures need to be taken in order to prevent this risk.

“Antimicrobial resistance is a tragedy of the commons, but with more direct individual effect than climate change,” Thomas Van Boeckel, an ecologist at Princeton University and the study’s lead author told the Atlantic. “By playing your part you do reduce your risk of infection. Although not completely.”2

In other words, livestock practices need to be adjusted around the world. For this to happen, massive portions of the general population will have to change their eating habits regarding meat. If everyone were to only purchase meat without added antibiotics and hormones, then it could spur necessary change. Yet on an individual scale, this practice does only so much to stop antibiotic practices currently in place.

Eventually, if common infections become resistant to antibiotics, it could cause them to be deadly.3 To slow this process down, it will take combined efforts of consumers, health care professionals, meat producers and policymakers to change legislation and common practices for managing livestock.

1 “Global trends in antimicrobial use in animal food,” by Thomas Van Boeckel, Charles Brower, Marius Gilbert, Bryan T. Grenfell, Simon A. Levin, Timothy P. Robinson, Aude Teillant and Ramanan Laxminarayan, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Feb. 18, 2015.

2 “The antibiotics problem in meat,” by Olga Khazan, The Atlantic, March 23, 2015.

3 “Soaring antibiotic use in animals fuels ‘super bug’ fears” by Chris Arsenault, Reuters, March 23, 2015.