Did you know the meat and poultry you buy has high levels of antibiotic resistant superbugs that can be transferred to humans?
Infections classified as urgent threats include carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, drug-resistant gonorrhea, and Clostridium difficile, a serious diarrheal infection usually associated with antibiotic use. C. difficile causes about 250,000 hospitalizations and at least 14,000 deaths every year in the United States.
These are among the findings of a first-time examination of the topic of superbugs by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its report is called “Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States, 2013.”
“Antibiotic resistance is rising for many different pathogens that are threats to health,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “If we don’t act now, our medicine cabinet will be empty, and we won’t have the antibiotics we need to save lives.”
The most important action needed to slow the development and spread of antibiotic-resistant infections is to change the way antibiotics are used, according to the CDC report. Up to half of antibiotic use in humans and much of antibiotic use in animals are unnecessary. Antibiotics need to be used correctly and safely – only when they’re needed to treat disease – and the right antibiotics must be used the right way in every case.
In addition to loss of human life, antibiotic-resistant infections add huge and avoidable costs to an already strained U.S. health care system.
Studies estimate that, in the United States, antibiotic resistance adds $20 billion in extra direct health care costs, with additional costs for lost productivity as high as $35 billion a year.
While the CDC is calling attention to the health threats and costs of antibiotics use in the U.S., antibiotic use in the meat and poultry industry is skyrocketing.
Nearly 30 million pounds of antibiotics were sold for livestock use in the U.S. in 2011, nearly four times the amount used by humans. That means 73 percent of all antibiotics sold in America go to meat production.
Widespread use of antibiotics can lead to the emergence of drug-resistant superbugs in the meat supply. These superbugs are then passed on to the consumer if the meat isn’t handled or cooked properly.
The CDC report said that to help ensure that medically important antibiotics are used judiciously in food-producing animals, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently proposed guidance describing a pathway for using these drugs only when medically necessary and targeting their use to only address diseases and health problems.
However, while the Environmental Working Group applauded the CDC report, it said it’s disappointed that the CDC endorsed the FDA’s strategy of using only voluntary measures to curb antibiotic abuse on factory farms.
“The FDA has a dismal record of inaction on this issue, and voluntary measures are really too little too late,” Heather White, EWG director, said. The EWG is an environmental research and advocacy organization.
Meanwhile, the meat industry wants to continue it’s heavy use of antibiotics in animal food, the vast majority of which are used to compensate for crowded and unsanitary conditions and to speed animal growth, according to The Huffington Post article “Antibiotic Resistance: How Industrial Agriculture Lies With Statistics.”The article said the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance, a coalition of corporations and trade associations that make up industrial agriculture, wants to have a “dialogue” with consumers about food production. The alliance is using an infographic, which implies that antibiotic use in food animal production plays no role in antibiotic resistance of human pathogens, the article said.
To learn more about the EWG’s research on antibiotic resistant superbugs and its action efforts preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics, go to its webpage “Superbugs Invade American Supermarkets.”