As individual members of society, we have a personal responsibility to use antibiotics wisely to protect their effectiveness for the common good (see sidebar). However, agriculture and government policy play critical roles in protecting public health as well.
We often hear about the risks associated with incorrect personal antibiotic use, but we don't hear enough about the risks of antibiotic resistance from industrial agricultural practices. (11) Help spread the word: Livestock raised conventionally on industrial or factory farms receive the lion's share – over 70 percent! --of all antibiotics used in the U.S. (3).
Here's why: low doses of antibiotics (put into livestock feed and water) promote growth, and help prevent outbreaks of diseases common in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions. (12). As a result, agricultural antibiotic use is the number one reason for antibiotic resistance among food-borne bacteria.
Resistant bacteria that develop in confined animal feeding operations – CAFOs – can be transferred to people via the meats we buy at grocery stores and consume in restaurants.
Consumers, as well as food and farm workers who handle contaminated meat or poultry can acquire the bacteria on their skin or in a cut. Industrial farm workers and their families can also harbor, carry and pass antibiotic resistant bacteria into their communities. (8)
In addition, resistant bacteria can spread to other animals and into the environment via animal and manure transport, farm waste runoff, the spreading of manure from industrial animals onto agricultural land, and even from flies. (8, 11)
Because of inadequate regulations and oversight U.S. consumers have little way of knowing how their food is produced. Nor do we have a system in place to test meat for the presence of antibiotic resistant bacteria, even though resistant bacteria has been found on randomly selected chicken, pork, ground beef and ground turkey samples from grocery stores across the country. (9, 13-15)