Conventional animal husbandry calls for the use of antibiotics in otherwise healthy animals to promote growth and limit the spread of disease. Unfortunately, this is having a serious impact on public health. Excessive antibiotic use is creating antibiotic-resistant superbugs that are especially dangerous to children.
Proponents of organic eating, you are allowed one “I told you so!” for this piece. A recently issued report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that excessive antibiotic use in animal feed to promote growth and prevent disease is creating a huge health problem in the U.S. particularly among young children. Basically, the report says that antibiotics in animal feed are dangerous to kids’ health
The problem is that such high levels of antibiotics do two things: build up resistance to the drugs and create antibiotic-resistant superbugs. These two results combine to make it more difficult for doctors to treat life-threatening infections, particularly in children five-years-old and younger.
Dr. Theoklis Zaoutis from the University of Pennsylvania & the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and co-author of the study commented saying, “The antibiotics that are fed to the animals lead to the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria in the animal. These bacteria can then be spread to other animals, the environment and to humans.”
In fact, over two million Americans are sickened with antibiotic-resistant infections every year. An alarming 23,000 of them die. Dr. Zaoutis and co-author Dr. Jerome Paulson estimate in their study that these infections impact the U.S. healthcare system to the tune of $21B to $34B every year.
The highest rate of infection was found in children five and younger, according to CDC data cited by the authors. Parents and pediatricians can fight antibiotic resistance by stopping the age-old practice of using antibiotics for viral illnesses, such as the common cold, on which antibiotics have no effect.
In addition to this, parents can lobby for limitations on the use of antibiotics in livestock feed. According to Urvashi Rangan, executive director of the Consumer Reports Food Safety and Sustainability Center, parents and consumers can also protect themselves by buying organic animal products or those labeled as “raised without antibiotics.”
Rangan, not involved in the study, added, “Consuming foods from animals produced without the routine use of antibiotics is one important step in reducing personal risk; so is cooking our foods thoroughly.”
However, the only real, long-term fix is an overhaul of the animal-based food industry, such as cessation of antibiotic-laden feed and other drugs as well as improving drug-free hygiene and husbandry to limit disease on farms.
A cautionary note is called for here. Consumers must be very careful in sourcing their organic animal products to ensure that they are, in fact, antibiotic-free. This has been a topic of some discussion amongst friends of mine and personal research has shown that the organic system is not always 100% effective.
The best (or, perhaps worst) example is the slaughterhouse. Unless the animals you eat were slaughtered in a 100% organic slaughterhouse or in a highly reputable “mixed” operation that serves both organic and conventional farmers, you have no idea what you’re putting on your plate.
Slaughterhouses are chaotic (duh, right?) and not always staffed with conscientious individuals (trust me, I’ve seen pictures and no, I’m not sharing them). If the “mixed” slaughterhouse isn’t reputable, the farmers run the risk of getting out what they put in, sort of.
What I mean is this: Farmer Bob only raises organic, antibiotic- and hormone-free cows. He goes to a “mixed” slaughterhouse. Farmer Bill raises his cows in the conventional method, pumped full of all types of antibiotics, etc. He goes to the same “mixed” slaughterhouse as Farmer Bob.
Both Bob and Bill show up on a Tuesday. Each has 20 cows for slaughter. Bob tells the slaughterhouse management that his cows are organic, as he always does. Sadly for Bob, this slaughterhouse is not a good one.
Forty cows go in and meat from 40 cows comes out. It is quite likely that Bob’s and Bill’s cows weren’t properly segregated and the beef coming out marked as “Organic” may, in fact, come from Bill’s antibiotic-filled cows.
In turn, this “Organic” beef ends up at your local market and ultimately on your table. Little do you know it, but you’re feasting on antibiotics with a side of beef. Conscientious “mixed” slaughterhouses and 100% organic slaughterhouses work hard to avoid such problems.
Unless you go Vegan (I did for a while – great lifestyle, but I’m one of the ones whose body won’t tolerate it), the only defense you have is to do your research. Find out where your animal products are grown and slaughtered and choose wisely.