Food Selects for Antibiotic Resistance

By Satesh Bidaisee, Associate Professor of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, St. George's University
May 15, 2012

The use of antimicrobial compounds in food animal production provides demonstrated benefits, including improved animal health, higher production and, in some cases, reduction in food borne pathogens. Many food animals including poultry, swine and cattle are routinely treated with antibiotics in order to grow animals faster and to compensate for unsanitary conditions on many industrial farms.
However, use of antibiotics for agricultural purposes, particularly for growth enhancement, has come under much scrutiny, as it has been shown to contribute to the increased prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria of human significance. Recently, major increases in antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections in human populations have led to public health concerns regarding antibiotic use for non-therapeutic purposes (i.e., not used to treat disease) in animals destined for food production. Bacteria are able to develop antibiotic resistance when exposed to low doses of drugs over long periods of time. To promote growth and weight gain, entire herds or flocks of farm animals are routinely fed antibiotics at low levels in their feed or water—a practice that has been identified as a contributor to antibiotic resistance.
During the late 1990s, the same resistant strains of Campylobacter bacteria, one of the most common causes of diarrheal illnesses in humans, were discovered in chickens and people.
Both kinds of bacteria were resistant to fluoroquinolones, a class of antibiotics of important use in human medicine. Earlier in the 1980s, multi-drug resistant Salmonella infections in humans were linked to exposure to cattle on dairy farms. Rapidly growing, widespread emergence of resistance in Salmonella infections in humans resulted, which were sourced from food animals
Although the use of fluoroquinolones in poultry was banned, the vast array of antibiotics that are still used in food animals continue to pose a threat to human health. A joint report by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and the World Health Organization (WHO) found that the use of antibiotics in humans and animals places individuals at increased risk for infection, higher numbers of treatment failures and increased severity of illness. These impacts on human health can result in both higher frequency and longer duration of hospitalizations, raising the cost of health care.



Mathew AG, Cissell R, Liamthong S., 2007. Antibiotic resistance in bacteria associated with food animals: a United States perspective of livestock production. Foodborne Pathog Dis. 2007 Summer;4(2):115-33.

 WHO, 2012. Foodborne Disease Surveillence, Antimicrobial Resistance.



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