The Use of Antibiotics In Agriculture Is Undermining Our Food Supply

The practice of feeding animals low doses of antibiotics for profit is producing antibiotic resistant bacteria. By feeding animals antibiotics for disease prevention and weight gain farmers are inadvertently creating strains of bacteria that are resistant to common antibiotics.

Examples include:

– Bacteria from chicken conventionally fed with low dose antibiotics in their feed have become resistant to a last line of defence antibiotic called Synercid, a powerful antibiotic which is used when other antibiotics fail. The problem is that the antibiotic resistant bacteria are transferred to people who eat the chicken according to a 2006 study reported in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

– An enzyme (ESBL) produced by certain bacteria makes the bacteria resistant to the antibiotics being used against them. Previously thought to be found only in hospital intensive care facilities the problem has now spread to other species of bacteria that are more commonly found such as E.Coli, Salmonella, K. pheumoniae among others. The enzyme is implicated in the deaths of cancer and liver disease patients in Denmark where the number of infected patients increased 50% last year.

– According to data reported in the October 2007 Journal of the American Medical Association there were more than 90,000 cases of antibiotic resistant staphylococcus aureus infections in the US in 2005 resulting in more than 18,000 deaths – 10% more than the number dying from HIV/AIDS.

This latter study and several outbreaks at schools led to discussions which focused largely on prescription over-use and personal hygiene such as washing your hands with soap and water to reduce the risk of spreading infectious disease. BUT the widespread use of antibiotics in agriculture for profit has been largely ignored.

The implications of using antibiotics in agriculture are even more wide ranging with the antibiotics being transferred to food crops through the use of antibiotic containing manure. Even organically grown crops can be affected.

A 2007 study reported in the Journal of Environmental Quality looked at whether food crops accumulate antibiotics from soil covered with this type of manure. Potatoes, corn and lettuce were grown and all found to have antibiotics in their leaves and tissue.

So what can you do to avoid eating antibiotic contaminated food?

– Grow the food yourself, but in many situations this isn’t possible

– Find a farmer nearby who uses non toxic farming methods

– Join one of the growing number of community-supported agricultural programs in urban areas that give you access to healthy locally grown foods

Phillip Paris
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