18 Nov 11 Antibiotics with a side of steak
Antibiotics are a precious and finite resource where every use potentially lowers the effectiveness for everyone in the community. But we are fast approaching a world full of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and no drugs to treat them. The use of antibiotics as a procedural step in food animal production and agriculture generally has vastly accelerated the rise of the antibiotic resistant herd…. [A cogent look at this critical issue from Scientific American…] WE’RE IN A SAD AND WEIRD place in biomedical science. In the 1940’s we got penicillin, in the following 30 years another 13 different classes of antibiotic were introduced. Since 1970 the number of new classes has dropped to a worrying 2. Since then we have found new ways to arrange the deckchairs on our once proud antibiotic ship but we are well and truly sinking.
This is an awful situation as we are fast approaching a world full of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and no drugs to treat them. One aspect of our antibiotic use has vastly accelerated the rise of the antibiotic resistant herd, the use of antibiotics as a procedural step in food animal production and agriculture generally.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has just released a new report outlining the sales data of antibiotics for animal agriculture use in the US. Antibiotic use in food production topped out 13.2 MILLION (!!!) kg of antibiotics last year.
This number is up on last years report, the only other report performed by the FDA in this regard despite claims by the industry that less antibiotic is being used per animal. In many ways this reflects the global food demands but it also highlights a very important question, should we be pumping our meat full of antibiotics?
The use of antibiotics in industrial food production was introduced as a preventative measure to avoid animals getting sick, allowing more to grow to weight and be shipped off to market. But this resulted in healthy livestock receiving medication and becoming a breeding ground for antibiotic-resistant strains of many bacterial species including E. coli. Many antibiotics are not actually prescribed and in fact do not legally need to be, which is baffling to say the least as we approach a world with fewer and fewer effective antibiotics…..
….. the way antibiotics are being distributed to livestock is driving resistance. Routinely antibiotics are delivered via the feed to animals. Because of this they receive inconsistent and generally lower than prescription dosages of antibiotic, the perfect situation for the generation of resistance.
Antibiotic resistance develops when an antibiotic is used on a population of bacteria. Most of the population will die but any that do survive due to random mutations that they harbor will pass them onto their descendants producing antibiotic-resistant strains. Standard administered doses can overwhelm even those mutants who contain the saving mutations but extended low dosage provides those capable of surviving with enough of an advantage to survive and repopulate, even in the presence of the antibiotic.
Worse than this, the presence of a single antibiotic resistant strain can result in the rise of multiple species exhibiting resistance as many bacterial species have the capacity to share genes with each other…..
Scientific American: Read the full article