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.


    Steve Baragona

    Steve Baragona is an award-winning multimedia journalist covering science, environment and health.

    He spent eight years in molecular biology and infectious disease research before deciding that writing about science was more fun than doing it. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a master’s degree in journalism in 2002.

    You May Like

    Top US General: Turkish Media Report ‘Absurd'

    General Dunford rejects ‘irresponsible' claims of coup involvement by former four-star Army General Campbell, who led NATO forces in Afghanistan before retiring earlier this year

    Video Saving Ethiopian Children Thought to Be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at efforts of one African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children

    Protests Over Western Troops Threaten Libyan 'Unity' Government

    Fears mount that Islamist foes of ‘unity' government plan to declare a revolutionaries' council in Tripoli

    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.
    London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunitiesi
    X
    VOA News
    July 25, 2016 5:09 PM
    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Four Brother Goats Arrive in Brooklyn on a Mission

    While it's unusual to see farm animals in cities, it's become familiar for residents of Brooklyn, New York, to see a little herd of goats. Unlike gas-powered mowing equipment, goats remove invasive weeds quietly and without adding more pollution to the air. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this is a pilot program and if it proves to be successful, the goat gardener program will be extended to other areas of New York. Faith Lapidus narrates.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora