3 Risks of Antibiotics in Food

Every time you make a meat or dairy selection at the grocery store, you face the risks of antibiotics in foods. The agricultural industry regularly feeds cattle, pigs, poultry and farmed fish antibiotics as a part of their daily diet. Since the late 1940s, this has been a normal practice with farmers, when antibiotics were discovered to help animals absorb and process food more readily. Not every farmer chooses to treat his animals with these drugs, but the ones that do could be opening up your family to potentially harmful health risks. Learn about the risks of antibiotics in food before you prepare your next meal. 

1. Antibiotic Resistance in Humans

The food industry accounts for at least 70 percent of all antibiotics used in the U.S. each year. Feed animals, including cattle, pigs and chickens, often stand or lie stationary, cooped up in their own waste for their entire lives. Lack of exercise and poor conditions lead to slow growth and risk of disease. Animals are fed antibiotics as part of their regular diet to stimulate growth hormones and prevent life-threatening illness. 

Studies have shown that once processed, the meat, dairy or eggs still contain traces of the antibiotics fed to the animal. Theoretically, you may be consuming small traces of these drugs each time you eat, increasing your resistance to the antibiotic. 

2. Bacterial Resistance Increases

A surge in antibiotic resistant strains have appeared over the last few years in America. In an executive summary, the World Health Organization (WHO) showed clear evidence directly relating human health risk directly to drug-resistant bacteria stemming from the use of antibiotics in livestock and fish. These strains of superbugs would not exist otherwise, including the news-worthy Methicillian Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, or MRSA. 

In a study conducted in 2009 by the University of Iowa, a new stain of MRSA was found in nearly 70 percent of hogs and 64 percent of workers dealing with the hogs on several Iowa and Western Illinois farms. When surveyed, all of the farms admitted to using antibiotics on the animals daily. Antibiotic free farms linked to this study showed no incidents of MRSA.

3. Misleading Labels

More and more grocers are offering products labeled “Raised without Antibiotics.” However, some of this packaging might be misleading, or a downright lie. In 2008, the USDA told Tyson to stop labeling its products as “Antibiotic Free,” once the world’s largest meat producer admitted to injecting its eggs with antibiotics before they hatched. 

The USDA also warned the company against using misleading labels because they regularly ionophores in chicken feed. Tyson argued that ionophores are antimicrobial, not antibiotic. Soon after, the USDA discovered that Tyson had long been injecting eggs with gentamicin, a known antibiotic used to treat urinary tract infections in humans. Tyson had not disclosed this information to the USDA. Because there is no formal definition of “Raised without Antibiotics” labels, some meat producers abuse the system. 

The Bottom Line

To avoid ingesting unwanted antibiotics, or contracting drug-resistant strains of organisms, shop locally. Buy products from farmers you trust. Know where your food comes from and how it is handled before it is processed. Family farmers who raise livestock free range without antibiotics and hormones are your safest bet. 

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