A recent World Health Organization (WHO) report highlights how antibiotic resistance—the ability of bacteria to resist the effects of antibiotics they were previously sensitive to—is a threat without borders. And the use of antibiotics in the food industry means that humans and animals alike are exposed to antibiotics on a daily basis, making them less effective when we really need them.
The routine use of antibiotics in the feed and water of otherwise healthy chickens, cattle, and pigs since the 1950s has created a breeding ground for antibiotic resistant bacteria. A shocking eighty percent of all antibiotics used in the United States are fed to farm animals, not people, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
This week, Food Tank is highlighting the impact of antibiotics on both livestock and crop production and raising awareness of the role of antibiotic resistance in our food system.
Antibiotics have played a major role in protecting public health and have saved millions of lives. However, inappropriate use of antibiotics now threatens their effectiveness, the ability of humans and animals to fight off infection, and even costs lives.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), in 2010, almost 52 percent of chicken breasts tested were contaminated with antibiotic resistant E. coli. And, in three states, drug-resistant bacteria have been found in drinking water and detected in the air downwind from factory farms. Drug-resistant infections cost Americans up to US$26 billion a year in additional health costs.
Because of serious public health risks, there is a push to end use of low dose antibiotics in livestock. Organizations like the Center for a Livable Future (CLF) have been promoting research and developing communication on global health and the environment for a long time.
Some of their successes include:
1. CLF-supported research, using industry data, demonstrated that the use of antibiotics for growth promotion in poultry is not cost-effective.
2. Researchers from the Center published evidence of antibiotic residues (including banned fluoroquinolone antibiotics) in feather meal, a common additive to poultry, swine, cattle and fish feeds.
3. Center researchers found that poultry farmers and communities near chicken farms may have a greater risk of acquiring antibiotic resistant illnesses like Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA).
CLF is also helping eaters better understand the impact of their food choices. “If enough of us on the demand side create influence through our choices, we will transform the food system, and the supply side will follow,” said Dr. Bob Lawrence, Director of CLF.
There are dozens of other organizations working tirelessly to gather evidence, inform policymakers, and promote more sustainable methods of food production. Food Tank would like to highlight sixteen organizations and research institutes working to raise awareness around antibiotic resistance in both livestock and crop production.
Alliance for a Prudent Use of Antibiotics (APUA) — APUA’s motto is “preserving the power of antibiotics.” Gathering experts in a wide range of fields- from medicine to economics- APUA conducts research and educates on antimicrobial treatment and resistance at the grassroot and global levels.
Animal Welfare Approved (AWA)— Founded in 2006, AWA is a food label for meat and dairy products guaranteeing the highest animal welfare and environmental standards. The organization supports independent family farmers who provide their animals with continual access to pasture, as well as the opportunity to perform natural and instinctive behaviors essential to their health and well-being. Following AWA standards, farmers can avoid routine antibiotics and other chemical inputs on the farm.
Center for Food Safety— The Center promotes organic agriculture and opposes harmful food production methods such as factory farming. Involved in the Meat Without Drugs campaign, they launched a petition calling on U.S. pork producers to stop using Ractopamine, a drug banned or strictly limited in 160 countries. You can also take part in this online action by calling on Congress to tackle antibiotic resistance.
Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI)— Founded in 1971, CSPI fights for food safety, nutrition and health. In 2013, CSPI released an “Antibiotic Resistance in Foodborne Pathogens” report that details antibiotic-related outbreaks from 1973 to 2011. CSPI also supports the Meat Without Drugs and Keep Antibiotics Working campaigns.
Compassion in World Farming (CIWF)— CIWF campaigns internationally against animal cruelty in farming practices. Part of the Save Our Antibiotics Alliance along with the Soil Association and Sustain in the United Kingdom, CIWF published the Case Study of a Health Crisis that details the health implications of the overuse of antibiotics in agriculture.
Consumers Union— Working for a food system that assures “food is safe, affordable, healthful and processed in a sustainable manner,” Consumers Union is the co-instigator of the Meat Without Drugs campaign along with Fix Food. The campaign aims at raising awareness about antibiotic resistance and is calling big food retailers, specifically Trader Joe’s, to stop selling meat raised with antibiotics.
Fix Food— This American nonprofit is dedicated to changing the food system by raising awareness and partnering with leading organizations. Fix Food is also part of the Meat Without Drugs campaign.
Food Animal Concern Trust (FACT)— FACT is a research-driven nonprofit organization founded in 1982. It aims to raise awareness about animal welfare in agriculture and consequent public health issues. FACT opposes, among other things, the extralabel use of antibiotics, which is a drug approved for humans and used for cattle. FACT provides leadership for the Keep Antibiotics Working campaign.
Food and Water Watch— This consumer organization believes accessibility to safe food produced in a sustainable manner is a human right. In order to change practices in factory farms, Food and Water Watch initiated the Save Antibiotics campaign calling city councils to pass resolutions to end non-therapeutic use of antibiotics.
Healthy Food Action—Healthy Food Action is a national network of health professionals advocating for healthier food systems. Founder, Dr. David Wallinga, is among the leading science and policy experts applying a health lens to our food system and has written extensively on the impact of antibiotics and super bugs on human health.
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP)—IATP promotes safe food and healthy ecosystems, opposing the overuse of antibiotics in agriculture and aquaculture. The organization produced a bibliography listing 147 studies supporting public health action to reduce antibiotic overuse in food animals, has organized 30,000 comments to the FDA on taking antibiotics out of meat, and published reports on how the FDA fails to regulate antibiotic use.
Keep Antibiotics Working (KAW) — KAW is a coalition of health, consumer, agricultural, environmental, humane and other advocacy groups with more than 11 million members dedicated to eliminating the inappropriate use of antibiotics in healthy farm animals.
Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) — NRDC is involved in a wide range of issues related to environmental protection and supports the Meat Without Drug campaign. NRDC also takes legal actions and runs an online petition to stop the spread of superbugs.
Soil Association— This English charity is comprised of farmers, scientists, and nutritionists who work for “healthy, humane, and sustainable food, farming and land use.” Soil Association joined the Save Our Antibiotics Alliance and also acts as the main certification body for organic products in the United Kingdom.
Sustain—Sustain is an environmental organization advocating for sustainable food and agriculture practices and policies. It is one of the founders of the Save Our Antibiotics Alliance.
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)—HSUS fights for animal rights and protection. Considered the largest of its kind, HSUS work includes influencing public policies, investigating animal cruelty, and enforcing existing laws. Dedicated to improving lives of farm animals in many ways, HSUS also supports the Meat Without Drugs campaign.
The Pew Charitable Trusts— The Trust organized a campaign on human health and industrial farming and a petition calling on the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB) – a global, multi-stakeholder initiative representing five different constituencie – to ensure criteria which define “sustainable beef” exclude the non-therapeutical use of antibiotics. In 2011, they published a seminal report on reforming industrial animal agriculture and seeking a new model which is less damaging to the environment, communities, animal and human health.