Oregano is not just something used in Italian cooking. According to a recent article in The New York Times, some poultry farmers in Pennsylvania are using oregano oil, instead of antibiotics, to combat bacterial diseases.
Soon after their discovery in the 1940s, antimicrobials have been a steady component in livestock feed to promote growth and ward off diseases. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), 80 percent of antibacterial drugs in the United States are used for livestock production, not people, and are mostly given to healthy animals. This overuse of antibiotics in food production can have profound effects on human health, including antibiotic-resistant diseases, in animals and humans alike.
The Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics, and Policy has created ResistanceMap, a collection of tools that showcases microbial use and resistance data in North America and Europe. According to an infographic about antibiotic use and resistance in the United States, the overall number of antibiotic prescriptions for people decreased between 1999-2010, but the antibiotics being prescribed were much stronger and more likely to lead to even greater bacterial resistance. The infographic notes that some common infections are already more drug-resistant.
Eating foods produced with antibiotics puts consumers at risk for contracting deadly antibiotic-resistant diseases. The NRDC highlights a 2010 FDA study that found antibiotic-resistant E. coli in nearly 52 percent of tested retail chicken breasts, and the 2010 National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System report reveals that much of the meat sold in grocery stores is contaminated with antibacterial-resistant diseases.
Because of growing concern about the perils of antibiotic resistance, many farmers in the U.S. are turning to more natural remedies to fight disease among their livestock. Scientific evidence about the effectiveness of natural remedies, such as oregano oil, is scarce because testing is still rare. Several studies show the potential of essential oils in fighting diseases. A 2012 study by Syria’s Atomic Energy Commission investigates how effectively peppermint, oregano, lemon, cinnamon, and evergreen oils inhibit Brucella abortus 544, a contagious disease among livestock that can be passed to humans. The results show that, of all the oils, cinnamon oil displays “the most effective antimicrobial activity against Brucella.” Other studies, including one in the U.S. and one in Turkey, focus on oregano’s antibacterial effectiveness.
Before the discovery of antibiotics in the 1940s, natural remedies used to be the norm for preventing and curing diseases. Returning to these more aromatic antibiotic alternatives, like oregano oil, might play a key part in quelling the growing resistance to drugs. But first, to convince livestock farmers that these alternatives work, there needs to be more studies proving their effectiveness.