Wellness Wednesday - Antibiotic Use in Factory Farms


The FDA announced in Dec 2011 that the agency will now ban the agricultural use of cephalosporins, a class of antibiotics used in humans to treat pneumonia, skin and soft tissue infections as well as urinary tract infections. In horses it is used to treat bacterial strains of Streptococcus equi ssp that cause lower respiratory tract infections. Concerned that routine use of this antibiotic will push pathogens to develop resistance, the FDA cited this as an important step to reducing factory farm antiobiotic abuse.

The interesting aspect of this new ban on cephalosporins for animals intended for slaughter (chickens, cattle, swine) is that the amount of this antibiotic used as of 2010 was 54,207 pounds in comparison to the 12,328,521 pounds of tetracycline used. The total amount of antimicrobial drugs used in Food- Producing animals in 2010 was: 29,191,713 pounds, while the human total antimicrobial usage was only 7,275,255 pounds. <source FDA>

From 2009 to 2010 Penicillin use in factory farms went up from 1,345,953 pounds to 1,920,112 pounds, which is a 43% increase in one year.

The widespread and continual use of antibiotics in animals raised for food is a concern. The American Medical Association has been waving red flags as pathogens continue to develop resistance to antibiotics. It’s not just that antibiotics are often over-prescribed, but that traces and residue of antibiotics are in our food supply through the meat, pork, and chicken we eat. Factory farm animals are routinely given antibiotics as “growth promoters”.  In 2005 the EU banned antibiotics as growth promoters and as subtherapeutics.

Antibiotics are important medicines, but they have become a kind of pharmacological panacea. Factory farms feeding thousands of animals in confinement become a breeding ground for pathogen resistance.

“There is scientific consensus that antibiotic use in food animals contributes to resistance in humans. And there’s increasing evidence that such resistance results in adverse human health consequences. Antibiotics are a finite and precious resource and we need to promote prudent and judicious antibiotic use.” Dr. Frederick J Angulo, acting associate director of science, Centers of Disease Control, August, 2009.

To protect yourself and your family and your dogs it’s best to buy meat that is antibiotic-free. Some of the best choices for antibiotic free beef, chicken, and pork are to source local farms, CSAs, and farmers’ markets.    Try to reduce or even eliminate fast food as most chains buy from factors farms. Check out restaurants and find out which ones serve antibiotic free meats. Many commercial dog foods also use factory farm meat; thus exposing our dogs to antibiotics and potential pathogen resistance.

We want our horses to be healthy, and we need to be healthy too.




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