News / USA

US: Antibiotic Use in Livestock Harms People

Concerned about link between livestock antibiotic use and drug-resistant infections in people, US recommends ending some uses

Animals in many large livestock-raising operations around the world get a small but steady dose of certain antibiotics in their feed.
Animals in many large livestock-raising operations around the world get a small but steady dose of certain antibiotics in their feed.



U.S. health officials say there is unequivocal evidence of a link between overuse of antibiotics in healthy livestock and drug-resistant disease in people.

In a break from previous policy, they are recommending an end to the practice.

In nearly all the major livestock-producing countries in the world, farmers add small amounts of antibiotics to the animals' feed. It keeps them healthy and helps them grow better.

Public health groups have opposed the practice because bacteria continually exposed to antibiotics will eventually develop resistance to them.

Many causes

Antibiotic-resistant infections are one of the world's most serious health concerns. Many factors contribute to the rising incidence, including over-prescription of antibiotics by doctors and misuse among patients.

But routinely feeding the drugs to healthy livestock to improve growth is also contributing, public health groups say.

The livestock industry argues that it's a long way from farm to fork, and there's no evidence that feeding antibiotics to healthy animals is harming people.

Officials draw link

Ali Khan, a deputy director at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), disagreed at a recent congressional hearing in Washington, D.C.

"There's unequivocal evidence [of a] relationship between use of antibiotics in animals and transmission of antibiotic-resistant bacteria causing adverse effects in humans," he said.

Khan pointed to numerous scientific studies from Europe, Canada, and the United States, as well as reports from the World Health Organization and the U.S. Institute of Medicine, that all show a link between veterinary use of antibiotics and higher risk of drug-resistant infections among humans.

At the same hearing, Joshua Sharfstein, principal deputy commissioner at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said that, in one of the best studies researchers used molecular fingerprinting to follow an outbreak of drug-resistant bacteria: "You actually can trace the specific bacteria around and they find that the resistant strains in humans match the resistant strains in the animals."

New position

These strong statements opposing the practice represent a new U.S. government position on the issue. The FDA recently issued new guidance to the livestock industry recommending they stop using antibiotics as growth promoters.

"This is a very important event," says Jorgen Schlundt, head of food safety at the World Health Organization. "And it's actually following the guidance that WHO already gave out where we suggested that countries should actually stop using antibiotics as growth promoters."

Until now, only the European Union has followed the WHO's suggestion, banning the practice in 2006. Schlundt says it remains common in other major livestock-producing countries.

Recommendation or regulation?

While the FDA's recommendations are seen as a step in the right direction, they are voluntary. Critics say that's not enough.

Schlundt says while countries vary in their appetite for regulation, "In our experience, regulation is probably needed in an area like this."

But others say more regulation would be a mistake. The livestock industry and the nation's leading veterinarians' group says the antibiotics are helping to prevent animal disease, which ultimately makes the food supply safer.

University of Minnesota epidemiology professor Randall Singer says a ban could do more harm than good.

"If we were to pull those antibiotics from disease prevention, we will see disease," he says. "And my fear is, as we see more disease, we'll end up with more problems in our food supply."

The CDC's Ali Khan and the FDA's Joshua Sharfstein said that fear is unfounded.

Congress is considering legislation that would ban certain antibiotics from animal use. But it faces strong opposition from farm-state lawmakers, and even its supporters say Congress is unlikely to pass the measure this year.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syriai
November 26, 2015 5:21 AM
Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs