Last week I focused on the human part of the story of antibiotic resistance. I was reminded by a few people that antibiotic resistance also has its roots in the way animals are fed. While the human side of antibiotic resistance may be the result of ignorance, that is not the prime driver of the causes of resistance in the animal world.
The business of farming is difficult and profit and greed are major drivers of methods of farming on many of the large corporate farms in this country. Smaller family farmers do not live in the same world as farmers who run operations of hundreds of thousands of chickens or hogs, but those family farmers may be tempted to use antibiotic laced feed if they are not certified as an organic farm. Corporate farms have lost sight of the farm ethic and they are really just another business looking to maximize profit. The conditions that animals live in on many of these large farms would keep any farmer of conscience awake at night. The large farms have found ways to fatten up their livestock as quickly as possible and to push their growth to schedules that turn the animals into freaks of nature.
In 2012 the Federal Drug Administration issued guidelines for the use of antibiotics in animals because of the need to control the problem of antibiotic resistance. Included in those guidelines was a concise statement of the problem and a simple plan for moving forward. They stated, "... in light of the risk that antimicrobial resistance poses to public health, the use of medically important antimicrobial drugs for production purposes in food-producing animals does not represent a judicious use of these drugs. Such uses are typically administered through the feed or water on a herd- or flock-wide basis and are currently approved for such uses as increasing rate of weight gain or improving feed efficiency. ... Production uses are not directed at any specifically identified disease, but rather are expressly indicated and used for the purpose of enhancing the production of animal-derived products. FDA believes that production use indications such as "increased rate of weight gain" or "improved feed efficiency" are no longer appropriate for the approved conditions of use for medically important antimicrobial drugs. In contrast, FDA considers uses that are associated with the treatment, control, and prevention of specific diseases to be therapeutic uses that are necessary for assuring the health of food-producing animals."
Although the roots of the resistance problem in livestock feeding have been recognized for a long time, little is being done to stop the practices that are causing widespread resistance. In fact, in a recent edition of Food Safety News it was pointed out that, "... sales of medically important antimicrobials used in food-producing animals in the U.S. increased by 3 percent in 2013 and by 20 percent between 2009 and 2013. FDA also released the data for 2014 which showed another 3-percent increase in 2014 and 23 percent increase between 2009 and 2014."
The only way that things will change is for legislation to be passed on a national level to set strict guidelines for the use of antibiotics in animals as well as humans. So far, some states and the federal government have only issued guidelines and recommendations and they have been ineffective in doing anything about the problem of antibiotic resistance.
A few fast food chains are setting policies that say they plan to buy chickens from farms that do not put antibiotics in animal feed. The largest poultry producer in the country, Tyson Foods, said it will try to stop using human antibiotics in its chicken feed by the end of September 2017.
Most of the efforts to control the problem of antibiotic resistance have been so weak as to be meaningless. If we do not find ways to create strict enforcement of the use of antibiotics worldwide it won't be long before human and animal populations will be decimated by common infections and diseases that have mutated, making all antibiotics useless. If we allow greed and the profit motive to rule the day as it does now, even the greediest among us will not be able to buy their way out of the coming incurable pandemics.