According to statistics by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 23,000 people each year die from drug-resistant infections.
How do bacteria become drug-resistant? One way is overuse of antibiotics. It’s a growing health risk.
People are constantly exposed to varying levels of antibiotics through their foods. Farm animals are pumped full of antibiotics and hormones to help them grow faster and prevent disease. Cattle, hog and poultry producers regularly give their animals antibiotics that treat human infection. These antibiotics remain in the meat all the way through to the dinner table and are consumed. These create a host of health problems in humans.
Bacteria repeatedly exposed to antibiotics develop a resistance to the very drugs that doctors would prescribe to treat the disease. The bacteria are essentially becoming superbugs.
The Food and Drug Administration has asked drug manufacturers to voluntarily stop labeling drugs important for treating human infection as acceptable for growth promotion in animals. It’s making it voluntary in order to expedite the process. Making it mandatory would require years of cutting through bureaucratic red tape.
Two drug companies — Zoetis and Elanco — have said they would comply. Several restaurant chains have already been pressuring meat producers to limit the amount of additives in their meats in response to consumer pressure.
Animal agriculture groups will not have much of a choice in the matter if drug companies sign on and make the drugs’ use illegal. But many antibiotics will still be available for those producers to use, just not those that the FDA has classified as most important for treating human infections. The FDA said some of the antibiotics that could not be used in animals are penicillins and tetracyclines, according to a report.
Now the FDA needs to restrict the prescription of antibiotics to patients suffering from bacterial infections as opposed to viral infections. But that is a topic for another day.