News / Health

Use of Antibiotics in Livestock Debated

Concerns over growing antibiotic resistance

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.

Multimedia

Audio

Doctors around the world are finding it harder and harder to cure some infections. Bacteria are developing resistance to the drugs used to kill them. Health experts point to doctors over-prescribing antibiotics, and patients misusing them, as part of the problem. Many also say the meat industry is contributing by feeding animals antibiotics to help them grow better.

In the late 1980s, doctors in Europe were finding that vancomycin, one of the most potent antibiotics in the medicine cabinet, was not working as well as it used to. Certain bacteria had developed resistance to it, even though doctors were not using very much of this drug of last resort.

But a drug similar to vancomycin was widely used in livestock at the time.

"They used, hundreds of tons of this drug in animal husbandry in Europe, while we only used kilograms of vancomycin," says Niels Frimodt-Moller, head of antibiotic research at the Danish State Serum Institute.

Steady diet of antibiotics

Animals in many large livestock-raising operations around the world get a small but steady dose of certain antibiotics in their feed. It keeps the animals healthy, and that promotes their growth.

But when bacteria are steadily exposed to an antibiotic, they will eventually develop resistance. Frimodt-Moller said a number of studies linked vancomycin-resistant bacteria in people to use of the animal drug as a growth promoter.

"It could be shown that [the bacteria were] transmitted by food to humans in hospitals, and in non-hospitalized humans, and we found the same types in infections," Frimodt-Moller says, "So there was good reason for banning the growth promoters."

Banned in Denmark

Denmark banned the drug's use as a growth promoter in 1996, and levels of resistant bacteria found in animals and meat declined. The European Union has since banned the use of several other antibiotics as growth promoters.

But there is disagreement over how effective Denmark's ban has been.

Over-use in animal husbandry is not the only source of antibiotic resistance. Health experts point to doctors over-prescribing antibiotics, and patients misusing them, as another part of the problem.

And the growth-promoter ban does not appear to have made much difference in the overall rates of resistant infections in people, says Rich Carnevale with the U.S. industry-sponsored Animal Health Institute. He says Denmark may have over-reacted.

He says, "They saw resistance. They said, 'Well, it could be due to use of drugs in animals. And certainly some of that resistance was. But the real question is, was it harming humans? And to this day, they have not been able to really conclude that it's actually harming humans."

More sick animals

Meanwhile, Carnevale adds, animals get sick more often than they did before the ban, which means Danish farmers have to use more antibiotics to treat them than they used to.

"They actually increased their uses of antibiotics quite a bit," he says. "And I don't think they got, in all cases, the change in resistance they were looking for."

A 2003 report from the World Health Organization supports Denmark's decision to ban antibiotic growth promoters. It says reducing antibiotic resistance overall is a good thing. Bacteria that become resistant can spread that trait to other bacteria. But the report notes that more data is needed about the impact on people. While researchers continue to study the issue, the debate goes on.

You May Like

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
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.
Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festivali
X
April 24, 2015 4:09 AM
Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Keeping Washington Airspace Safe Is Tall Order

Being the home of all three branches of the U.S. federal government makes Washington, D.C. the prime target for those who want to make their messages and ideas heard. Unfortunately, many of them choose to deliver them in unorthodox ways, including from the air, as a recent incident clearly showed involving a gyrocopter landing on the Capitol’s West Lawn. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.

VOA Blogs