I suppose the current ranting and raving and choosing of sides goes along with the modern political climate. The art of calmly discussing the merits and demerits of an issue based on hard facts and science has dried up like a field of corn in the middle of Kansas this summer. Let’s try to revive that art.
The proper use of antibiotics has been hanging around the cattle industry like an infestation of horn flies for at least two decades. And like that infestation, if we don’t do something about the issue, it has the potential to be devastating. It’s been a “Yes it is; no it isn’t” thing since shortly after the first use of antibiotics in animals. Lately, though, reasoned discussion had given way to chicken-little-style panic in a few corners of the globe.
Does the alleged overuse in animal agriculture lead to drug resistant strains of bacteria with the potential to pose a threat to the human population? And will it threaten to lead to serious food safety problems? Some people point to the rise of Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) as proof of the first threat; no one suggests it contributes to the second. A number of experts, however, are challenging the use of antibiotics as growth promotants, calling it “unnecessary and dangerous.”
Food Safety News editor Dan Flynn editorialized about the use/overuse of antibiotics a few days ago and wrote, “According to the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) ‘Antimicrobial resistance is recognized as one of the greatest threats to human health worldwide’.” Click here to read his comments.
The growing resistance is caused by all the uses of antibiotics, not just their use in animal agriculture. Many scientists think antibiotics are over-prescribed for both the animal and human populations, and physicians and veterinarians should carefully reconsider how often they should reach for the prescription pad.
A blanket reduction would be insane, of course. After the discovery of penicillin, antibiotics have reduced suffering and death for millions since the first tests were performed on people in the 1930’s. It has been a generally available life saver for less than 75 years and it was first used to save the lives of wounded troops during WWII. It wasn’t widely prescribed for people in the general population until the 1950’s. Because penicillin resistant bacteria were noted almost immediately, researchers began looking for other antibiotics. Today, we have many options.