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

Is Air Travel Safe?

Aviation expert says despite tragic losses of Malaysian Airlines flights 370 and 17, industry experienced lowest fatality rate in recorded history last year More

Multimedia 100 Days Later, Nigerian Girls Still Held

Activists holding rallies in Nigeria and several other countries to mark 100th day of captivity for more than 200 schoolgirls being held by Boko Haram More

Chocolate Too Bitter? Swap Sugar for Mushrooms

US food technology company develops fermentation process using mushrooms to reduce bitterness in cocoa beans, believes it will cut sugar content in candy 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.
IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Formi
X
July 22, 2014 10:26 AM
Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.

AppleAndroid