However these one-time miracle cures are losing their efficacy as bacteria develop resistance to them. The medical profession admits that "In the closing years of the last century, there is an uneasy sense that micro-organisms are getting ahead”. We now face new, super diseases that are resistant to even the most powerful antibiotics .
Part of the problem has been our own overuse of antibiotics. But the biggest culprit is the use of antibiotics in the factory farming method of animal production. In 1949, Thomas Juke, working for a drug manufacturer, discovered that feeding domestic animals small amounts of antibiotics, increased their growth rates. Since then for over 50 years, the meat industry has been feeding meat animals—pigs, goats , cattle and poultry— antibiotics. .These drugs are commonly referred to as ‘growth promoters’ and the industry calculates that their use increases the daily growth and food conversion ratios by 3 to 11 per cent. animals grow more and the owners make more money.
Today most antibiotics are used on animals than on humans. The WHO says more than half of global production is used on farm animals. In the last 30 years the use of penicillin-type drugs in farm animals has increased by 600%, and of tetracyclines by 1,500%. In America more than 70% of its antibiotics are fed to meat animals – not to treat illness, but rather to promote growth and to repair the illnesses caused by crowded, stressful, and unsanitary conditions..
The antibiotics routinely given to livestock and poultry are identical to drugs that doctors rely on to treat sick humans. These include penicillin, tetracyclines, erythromycins, bacitracin, Carbodox, Olaquindox, Avilamycin, Avoparcin, Efrotomycin, Flavophospholipol, Oleandamycin, Spiramycin, Tylosin and Virginiamycin. While antibiotics are available on a prescription-only basis for humans, ‘growth promoters’ are generally available to livestock producers without any prescription
These antibiotics administered at levels not high enough to kill bacteria, to stressed animals living packed close together in filthy conditions create prime breeding grounds for tough, drug-resistant bacteria . These resistant bacteria escape into the surrounding community through the air and water and cause infections in humans that do not respond to antibiotics.
Nearly 5 million pounds of tetracycline antibiotics are fed to pigs each year in the U.S. This is sixty percent greater than the volume of all antibiotics given to sick humans. As a result we now have tetracycline-resistant strains of Staphylococcus aureus which cause pus-filled skin lesions such as boils, styes and furunculosis; more serious infections such as pneumonia, mastitis, phlebitis, meningitis, and urinary tract infections; and deep-seated infections such as osteomyelitis and endocarditis in humans. S. aureus is a major cause of hospital acquired infections. It causes food poisoning by releasing enterotoxins into food, and toxic shock syndrome by releasing superantigens into the bloodstream. In 2005 there were almost 100,000 U.S. cases of Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections leading to nearly 19,000 deaths. In comparison, HIV/AIDS killed 17,000 people that year. A 2007 Dutch study found that 11% of pigs from 31 farms were positive for MRSA.
After fluoroquinolones were approved for use in poultry, resistance among Campylobacter, the bacteria that cause food poisoning in humans, has jumped from an estimated 1% to 14%.
Following an epidemic of resistant S. typhimurium, the international Swann Report specifically named the following antibiotics as unsuitable for use in animal feed : chlortetracycline, oxytetracycline, penicillin, tylosin and the sulphonamides. India is using every one of these drugs. Among the sulphonamides (Sulfathiazole, Sulphamethazine, Sulfanitran, Sulfadimethoxine, Sulfaquinoxaline), Sulphamethazine (SMZ) is the most widely used, specially in dairy cattle because of its unusually long “staying power”. Unfortunately the residue remains in both milk and meat causing severe allergic reactions and anaemia. In milk , upto 80 mg per kilolitre have been found – an amount that should be spread over 60,000 kilolitres.
For more than 30 years, scientists have known that the large-scale use of antibiotics in healthy farm animals is creating antibiotic-resistant bugs but have failed to stop it because of the political pressure of the meat industry. In America the Food and Drug Administration failed to prohibit the use of penicillin and tetracycline as animal growth promoters. In 2000, the FDA tried to ban the use of Baytril for chickens but its maker, Bayer, is fighting the action. In 2001, the FDA talked about banning the antibiotic virginiamycin in animal feed which for humans is the only effective treatment for many potentially deadly hospital-acquired infections. But no action has yet been taken.Two federal bills endorsed by public health and medical organizations, aimed at phasing outin US food animal production were proposed but not passed. However since 2003, the EU has banned the use of antibiotics as growth promotional agents.
Why doesn’t the Indian government do something? Animal production is part of the Agriculture Ministry and defended as a way of earning money. Greedy intensive factory farmers who have replaced small scale farms manipulate greedy government officials into turning a blind eye. Antibiotics are pushed by both the drug as well as the meat industry and since human health has the lowest priority in India , so what if they pose a health hazard to humans.
Where the government won’t do anything, a consumer movement can. Ask hotels and meat-based fast food chains like McDonald’s/KFC/Pizza Hut/Dominos where they get their meat from and whether their suppliers are using antibiotics in the animal feed. Boycott them till they change. Even better, turn vegetarian and save your life.