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

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age 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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs