Report: Agricultural Antibiotics Responsible for Drug-Resistant Superbugs

The Center for Disease Control says it’s time to address the use of drugs in agriculture

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Carrie Antlfinger, File / AP

This May 16, 2012 photo shows dairy cows on the Meyer farm in Chilton, Wis.

In a groundbreaking report released this week, the Centers for Disease Control says the agricultural use of antibiotics for raising livestock is a major contributor to the threat posed to humans by antibiotic-resistant illnesses.

Each year, according to the CDC, at least two million people in the United States are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, 23,000 of whom die as a result. The CDC’s new report, titled Antibiotic resistance threats in the United States, 2013, is a “first-ever snapshot” of this grave threat to public health.

The CDC announcement is significant for several reasons. According to the report, more antibiotics are used in industrial agriculture in the U.S. than on people. In addition, though the nation’s health-threat watchdog has reportedly issued statements on the problem in the past, this is the first time it has unambiguously identified agriculture as a major component of the antibiotic resistance problem. “CDC has (quietly) said before that antibiotic overuse in food animals helps worsen the epidemic of infections from antibiotic resistant bacteria,” said Dr. David Wallinga of Healthy Food Action, as quoted by Wired. “But this important report practically shouts it from the mountain top.

Because the nation’s food supply is so reliant on antibiotics—which are used to maintain the health of animals that live in extremely close quarters, such as feedlots, and eat a diet of processed feed, usually corn—finding a solution to the problem the CDC has identified will not be easy. As a preliminary step, the CDC has said that “antibiotics should be used in food-producing animals only under veterinary oversight and only to manage and treat infectious diseases, not to promote growth.”