It’s so refreshing to know you’re not alone. With all the negative publicity the animal agriculture industry has withstood lately, it’s gratifying to find a beacon of reality among the rhetoric. The truth is there – it’s just you, and consumers really have to search for it.

Last week, the Center for Accountability in Science sent a message about a quiz it had developed to help consumers understand the role of antibiotics in animal and human health. The short, five-question quiz gets to the heart of the matter on the most important facts consumers should know about antibiotics. Here’s one of the true/false questions:

“The primary driver of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in humans is the overuse of antibiotics used on farm animals.”

The Answer, Of Course, is False

Here is the accompanying explanation:

“Though farms use a lot of antibiotics, many are never or rarely prescribed to humans. Thirty percent of antibiotics used on farms are from a class called ionophores, which can be deadly to humans and some animals like horses and donkeys. There’s no firm evidence that antibiotic resistance in humans is linked to antibiotic use in farm animals. Though Denmark has very strict limits on antibiotic use in livestock, it says “consumption of meat may currently be considered an insignificant source for the human infections” of food-borne illnesses like E. coli. Three recent studies show that only .27 percent of antibiotic-resistant E.coli infections can be linked to meat, while 99.73 percent of those infections are associated with antibiotic use in humans.”
The email provided other resource material as well as experts to contact for more information, including the Center’s Chief Science Officer, Dr. Joseph Perrone, is available for interviews on antibiotic use and antibiotic resistance. Dr. Perrone served as an adviser to the World Health Organization and was on the WHO's diagnostic steering committee. He wrote a recent op-ed in The Hill, explaining the problem of antibiotic resistance, and how the primary problem is in the human population – not animal production. He wrote: “It’s not just over-prescription that poses a problem. Even when antibiotics are prescribed appropriately, too often patients fail to finish the full course of antibiotics once they begin to feel better—or when they’re sick of dealing with the drugs’ side effects such as nausea and vomiting. Failure to finish the full dose means that some of the bacteria may survive. In some cases, the body’s natural defenses will kick in and fight the remaining bacteria. For others, the remaining bacteria can develop resistance to the antibiotic prescribed.”

Pressure from Patients
The Food Insight Organization also is trying to provide reason amid the chaos. It interviewed

Dr. Terry Dwelle, State Health Officer of the North Dakota Department of Health, who shared perspectives from both public health and agriculture. He notes that “inappropriate prescribing” for both human and animals is a key cause of resistance. He says, “Veterinarians and livestock producers continue to take proactive steps to reduce use of antibiotics. Physicians have also made strides, even in the face of pressure from patients to prescribe antibiotics. “

The following examples published in Emerging Infectious Disease, illustrate patient perceptions about antibiotics in patient care:

  • 12 percent of Americans have recently taken antibiotics
  • 27 percent believed taking antibiotics during a cold made them better
  • 32 percent believed taking antibiotics during a cold prevented more serious illness
  • 48 percent expected antibiotics when seeking medical care with a cold
  • 58 percent are not aware of the health risks of antibiotics

The Food Insights “FACTS Network” produces articles and information to help set the story straight on antibiotics. Earlier this year, it published a Q&A with Dr. Justin G. Bergeron at the Veterinary Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Resident, University of Minnesota Center for Animal Health and Food Safety (CAHFS). In answering a question about what consumers should know about antibiotic use in food animal production, Dr. Bergeron wrote:

“It is important to remember that antibiotics are important for an animal’s health and wellbeing. When humans are sick, we need to take the appropriate medication to get better. Animals have the same need. Animals are not super heroes, they occasionally get sick and hurt through everyday living, just like us. In these instances, it is important to treat animals appropriately including giving them antibiotics, if needed. Then, animals’ milk and meat are withheld from the food system until antibiotics have fully cleared the animals’ systems.”

How You Can Help
It’s important for you, as a producer, to know that both animal and human health experts are diligent in helping disseminate a balanced understanding of the antibiotics issue to consumers.

But it’s not enough.

You can help, too. Every time you talk with your non-farming friends, health-care providers, children’s teachers, or anyone else, share the facts about antibiotic resistance. Begin a dialogue. Help them realize that it’s everyone’s obligation to use antibiotics responsibly to protect and maintain the health of both human and animal populations.