Editor’s note: To view USFRA antibiotics infographics, 
visit FoodSource. All infographics are posted below 
the “questions & answers” section. 

CDC Report Being Misreported With Focus on Agriculture

This week, the CDC released a report on the number of humans infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. According to the CDC, at least two million people in the United States are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year. Of those infected, 23,000 die as a result.

Since the release of the report three days ago, media outlets across the nation have ripped apart the facts and turned the information into theories regarding the impact of antibiotic use on industrial farms. While the use of antibiotics on farms and ranches was mentioned, according to Animal Health Institute (AHI):

Today’s antibiotic resistance report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is consistent with what research has shown for a long time:  The largest antibiotic resistance threats are not connected to the use of antibiotics to keep food animals healthy.  Of the 18 specific antibiotic resistant threats discussed in the report, only two have possible connections to antibiotic use in food animals.

Undoubtedly, antibiotic-resistant bacteria are a concern, but deciphering the numbers and information in the report, animal agriculture is not to blame. First and foremost, farmers and ranchers support the judicious use of antibiotics because it’s the right thing to do.

With a plethora of stories coming out each day, we wanted to take a moment to walk through some of the most-referenced theories.

Theory: 80 percent of antibiotics sold are used for meat-producing animals. Of those, 70 percent are used to speed the growth of animals. (Mentioned in a KQED Radio – NPR)

Using the number of antibiotics sold doesn’t begin to explain how, why and when they are used on farms and ranches. In the words of Dr. Richard Raymond, “The 80 percent number is meant to be a distraction from the real truth.”

During the interview, Richard Carnevale with AHI mentioned that there are 40 times as many animals than humans, and these animals are often much larger than humans – further defining that antibiotics sold is not a way to depict overuse of antibiotics overuse in animal-agriculture.

Antibiotic use for humans and animals are relatively different. In other words, different antibiotics are used to treat different bacteria in animals compared to humans. Taking that a step further, one-third of antibiotics used on farms and ranches are NEVER used in human medicine.

Here are two easy-to-decipher graphics comparing antibiotic use in humans and animals.

Antibiotic use in animals for growth promotion is nowhere near 70 percent. That number is actually closer to 13 percent. Additionally, in an effort to minimize any future risk of antibiotic treatment failure in humans, all antibiotics medically important to human medicine used for growth promotion purposes in food animals will be eliminated within the next three to four years in accordance with the FDA Guidance 209 and 213.

According to Dr. Scott Hurd, The Gentle Vet, the FDA and animal drug companies have already worked for orderly phase out of growth promotion uses of medically important antibiotics. In the near future, all medically important antibiotics used in food animals will be used only for therapeutic purposes under the supervision of a veterinarian.

Theory: Industrial farms are breeding grounds for superbugs. (Mentioned in a KQED Radio – NPR, Time and SFGate)

While the CDC report attributes most fatalities to the overuse of antibiotics by humans as the established driver of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, many of the headlines continue to focus on the use of antibiotics on farms and ranches – calling it an issue created by industrial or factory farms.  

Jonathan Kaplan, Natural Resources Defense Council, admitted during the KQED program that researchers can’t quantify how much of the problem is attributed to animal agriculture. Richard Carnevale, AHI, commented further saying agriculture’s mention in the CDC report was in the terms of food-borne bacteria resistant to antibiotics in meat - salmonella and campylobacter. Both are avoidable with appropriate food-handling practices.

Further, the report says out of the 23,000 deaths due to infections resistant to antibiotics, 0.002 percent of those were attributed to bacteria in meat. In other words, consumers are not ingesting meat that’s filled with antibiotics that create a build-up of immunity to antibiotics. As Dr. Hurd says, “it’s all antibiotic free, baby!

When it comes to consumers, and their meat choices, they certainly have the option to choose organic meat (raised without the use of antibiotics) or meat that was raised with antibiotics. However, with the use of antibiotics, food-borne bacteria have actually declined – making meat even safer for consumers (read more on this topic from Dr. Hurd). We fully support consumer choice, just like we fully support the ability of farmers and ranchers to choose the management style best-suited for their farms and ranches.

The CDC report certainly sheds some light on increasing the level of concern for antibiotic-resistant bacteria. It’s a matter that should not be taken lightly. However, placing blame on those who raise animals for meat is unjust.

Farmers and ranchers are the real experts of their business and they look to their veterinarians for guidance on how and what should be used to treat their animals – and closely follow dosage labels and withdrawal periods. Any animal treated with an antibiotic has a withdrawal period, which must be followed, to make sure the antibiotics have cleared their system before going to slaughter. And there are repercussions for not following the rules. 

Farmers and ranchers, too, worry about antibiotic efficacy for their animals and their families. It only makes sense for them – for their animals, their families and their business – to use antibiotics correctly.

Take it from the experts themselves:

To read more on antibiotic use on farms and ranches, visit FoodSource: http://www.fooddialogues.com/foodsource/antibiotics

To read the CDC report: http://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/threat-report-2013/