On factory farms across the country, where animals tend to live in close quarters and diseases can spread quickly, the meat industry pumps its livestock full of antibiotics to fight the spread of bacteria. In fact, livestock consume four times the amount of antibiotics as sick Americans do — and even though the food industry maintains the practice is safe, new scientific research could definitively prove that wrong.
According to a new study published by researchers in Britain and Denmark, drug-resistant bacteria in animals can be transferred to humans. Researchers used genetic sequencing to study an outbreak of a bacterial disease on different farms in Denmark, and they were able to prove that the strain of bacteria that was sickening people actually originated in animals. The findings suggest that the meat industry’s practices could be directly exacerbating a growing global health threat, as an increasing number of diseases around the world — including whooping cough, tuberculosis, and gonorrhea — are beginning to develop a resistance to common antibiotics, signaling a future when even common infections may not be able to be treated.
Scientists have long suspected there may be a link between antibiotic resistance in animals and humans, but previous research hasn’t demonstrated it in quite as much detail before. Now that this study has been made public, however, policymakers are pointing to it as evidence that the FDA needs more regulatory oversight in this area of the meat industry. According to Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D-NY) — who recently introduced a measure to require food producers to disclose how often they’re feeding antibiotics to their animals, as well as to allow the FDA to collect more detailed information from drug companies — this new study “ends any debate” about whether giving antibiotics to livestock poses a health risk to humans.
Public opinion is on Slaughter’s side. The majority of Americans believe that antibiotics in food represent a health threat, and more than 60 percent of people say they would be willing to pay at least an additional five cents per pound for meat raised without antibiotics.