American Academy of Pediatrics: routine use of antibiotics in livestock threatens human health

In November the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) publicly opposed the routine practice of adding antibiotics to livestock feed.

Use of antibiotics leads to elimination of susceptible organisms, allowing resistant organisms to survive. The AAP finds that pathogens that cause disease and death in humans – especially children under age five – increasingly are becoming resistant to antibiotics because of the overuse of these drugs in raising livestock, including conventionally raised beef.

The AAP simultaneously published a technical report in Pediatrics noting that antibiotics fed to healthy animals in low doses over prolonged periods to promote growth and increase feed efficiency and also in a range of doses to prevent disease, “contribute to resistance and create new health dangers for humans.”

The article speaks to additional management practices that contribute to the problem: “Increasingly, food animals are raised in large numbers under close confinement, transported in large groups to slaughter, and processed very rapidly. These conditions can cause increased bacterial shedding and contamination of hide, carcass, and meat with fecal bacteria.” People can become infected through food, contact with livestock, and environmental exposures such as when animal runoff contaminates surface waters used for drinking and recreation.  Antibiotics may be ineffective in treating these infected people because the pathogens have become resistant to the medication.

Jerome Paulson, MD, co-author of the report says that clinicians should talk to patients and families about purchasing antibiotic-free meat and poultry.