- Decrease in antibiotic prescriptions in children shows progress in the fight against antibiotic-resistant microbes, but the rate is still considered too high.
- Around 70% of antibiotics in the U.S are used in the food industry, promoting growth and preventing diseases in animals, leading to a rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria strains in food.
- Both animal-based and plant-based foods can carry antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and proper food handling and cooking is critical.
- Antibiotic use in animals is not considered the central issue of resistance according to some, but initiatives are underway to reclassify antibiotic use in animal farming.
- Current regulation proposals only act as guidelines rather than enforceable rules—the decision to ban certain antibiotics does not rest with the U.S Food and Drug Administration.
In the persistent struggle to create awareness about the hazards of overusing antibiotics, progress seems to be slow, albeit steady. The latest studies suggest that Pediatricians in the U.S are issuing less prescriptions for antibiotics for general respiratory illnesses in kids than they did in the past decade. This is a hopeful indication that the education about the threat of antibiotic-resistant microbes is having an impact.
The Antibiotics in Our Food Supply
A mounting concern among some researchers and healthcare professionals is the amount of antibiotics people consume indirectly due to their widespread use in the food supply.
Data from a contemporary report in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows a reduction in antibiotic prescriptions for children under 15 years old, falling from 46 million in 1989 to 30 million in 2000. Over this time, there was also a close to 30% decrease in prescriptions per 1,000 visits to the doctor.
Although this decrease is a positive sign, Linda F. McCaig, a statistician for the National Center for Health Statistics and primary author of the study, confirms that the rate is “still probably too high.”
Health Concerns Around the Current Uses of Antibiotics
The study further disovers that many Physicians are still choosing antibiotics like penicillin and erythromycin for common illnesses like the cold, which is a viral infection and therefore not responsive to antibiotics designed to kill bacteria, McCaig adds.
Worryingly, experts believe that up to half of all antibiotics being prescribed for respiratory illnesses in children might be unneeded.
Even If you and your Physician agree to no longer use antibiotics for minor illnesses, this solves only a portion of the concern about antibiotic resistance – especially if you plan to consume food.
Antibiotics in the Food Industry
The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that 70 percent of antibiotics in use in the U.S today are fed to healthy animals like pigs, cows, and chickens. This is done to stimulate growth and prevent diseases.
Out of the 19 classes of antibiotics approved for use in animals, seven are regularly prescribed for humans combating infections, which include drugs like Cipro, Bactrim, and ampicillin.
The Consequence of Antibiotics in Food
The upshot is an increasing numbers of common, food-related bacterial strains including listeria and E. coli that are growing resistant to antibiotics.
“This is an invisible risk,” remarks Dr. Linda Tollefson, deputy director of the Center for Veterinary Medicine, attached to the U.S. Food and Drug Authority. She continues, “Individuals are getting antibiotic-resistant pathogens from food, and they are oblivious to this. This risk isn’t coming from being in a hospital for treatment and picking up a resistant pathogen. It’s an unpredictable risk. It is caused by consuming food. The majority of people eat food.”
Drug-Resistant Bacteria from Food
An array of drug-resistant bacteria is believed to be responsible for the recent reports of drug-resistant infections. For example, an E. coli strain that was resistant to Bactrim caused an outbreak of urinary tract infections amongst college women across the United States the past year.
Raw Food Safety
Though, there’s no need to panic but it’s worth noting that precautionary steps such as proper food handling and cooking can avert some infections caused by bacteria from food. Any surface, hands, or utensils that comes into contact with raw food should be washed thoroughly with soap and water. Food from animal sources should be adequately cooked or pasteurized before being consumed, according to health experts.
Vegetarian Diets and Bacteria
However, Vegetarians are not exempt from the risk. Vegetables and fruits too can be exposed to bacteria from food, hence they should be thoroughly washed too.
Changes Needed in the Food Industry?
Ron Phillips, a representative for the Animal Health Institute, argues that the “use of antibiotics in animals is not the ‘central driver’ behind the issue of resistance.” Interestingly, he mentions that despite using antibiotics in animals for five decades, the same compounds prove to still be effective.”
A public meeting on this issue, sponsored by the Center for Veterinary Medicine, was also attended by Phillips and Tollefson. The aim of the meeting was to agree upon a new classification system for antibiotics used in animal farming. That system targets to deter the use of antibiotics in animals that are major sources of food for humans.
Even if adopted, this new system will only act as a guideline and not a regulation. According to Dr. Linda Tollefson, the decision to ban the use of certain antibiotics does not rest with the U.S Food and Drug Administration.
So, in the meantime, while waiting for new regulations and awareness, it’s crucial to keep your hands and surfaces clean, especially when handling and cooking raw food.
To gather more information about antibiotics resistance and food-borne diseases, check out the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.