The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has taken a stand against the widespread use of antibiotics in animals. A technical report published in Pediatrics found that using antibiotics in livestock as growth stimulants contributes to the possibility of antimicrobial resistance and potential infection through the food chain, particularly among young children who are the most open to infection.
Molly Walker, reporting for MedPageToday, says up until now, in spite of ongoing discussions among the Committee of Environmental Health, government agencies, and agriculture interests, there has not been much progress on the issue.
Jerome Paulson, MD, of the Committee on Environmental Health and co-author of the report, said:
“It’s a document that we as pediatricians and the Academy as an organization can use to make the argument to stop the large-scale use of antibiotics in animal feed and water and decrease the use of antibiotics in animals for growth promotions and other nontherapeutic purposes,” he said.
Pediatricians are crucial to this problem because kids under five are most susceptible to food-related infections. They can be infected through, food, contact with animals, and environmental factors such as when animal runoff contaminates surface water sources.
The three leading causes of pediatric food-related illnesses, according to the CDC, are non-typhoid Salmonella (even fetuses have the potential to be infected by maternal exposure), Campylobacter species, and Staphylococcus.
Salmonella and Campylobacter infections are becoming progressively more drug-resistant, with the report suggesting that clinicians should discuss with families the efficacy of purchasing antibiotic-free meat and poultry. Paulson continued by saying clinicians are not always thoughtful in the use of antibiotics, and that too many times antibiotics are prescribed for colds or sore throats without an accurate bacterial diagnosis.
The antibiotic resistance crisis sickens 2 million Americans every year, kills 23,000 and increases the annual healthcare bill to $21 billion, writes Tom Philpott of Mother Jones. Philpott asks who the public should believe — the people who are called to keep your children healthy or the ones who are profitably and carelessly producing billions of meat animals annually?
Parents and other consumers could discourage antibiotic use in livestock feed by beginning to purchase organic or “raised without antibiotics” labeled food only, according to Urvashi Rangan, executive director of the Consumer Reports Food Safety and Sustainability Center, who was not a part of the study. Also, cooking foods completely is a good step toward reducing risk.
Unfortunately, reports Reuters, even purchasing only organic meats and poultry is not a guarantee that resistant bacteria is not present.
Timothy Landers, an antibiotics researcher at Ohio State University in Columbus, explains:
“From a farmer’s perspective, the use of antibiotics helps ensure that food is safe, nutritious and affordable. What we have lacked is a coordinated, integrated approach to antibiotic resistance including experts on human health, food production animal health and the environment.”
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) says that 80% of antibiotics sold in the US are for use in the poultry and livestock industries, not humans. And the majority of antibiotics is not given to animals that are sick. It is a common practice in the meat industry to add them to livestock food and water regularly instead of providing healthier living arrangements.
In 2013, a CDC report entitled “Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States” included this statement:
“Up to half of antibiotic use in humans and much of antibiotic use in animals is unnecessary and inappropriate and makes everyone less safe.”