Alumbaugh: Antibiotic use in perspective

With all the negative publicity the animal agriculture industry has withstood in 2015, it's gratifying to find a beacon of reality among the rhetoric. The truth is there - it's just you (and consumers) really have to search for it.

The Center for Accountability in Science explains, "Though farms use a lot of antibiotics, many are never or rarely prescribed to humans. Thirty percent of antibiotics used on farms are from a class called ionophores, which can be deadly to humans and some animals... There's no firm evidence that antibiotic resistance in humans is linked to antibiotic use in farm animals. Though Denmark has very strict limits on antibiotic use in livestock, it says "consumption of meat may currently be considered an insignificant source for the human infections" of food-borne illnesses like E. coli. Three recent studies show that only .27 percent of antibiotic-resistant E.coli infections can be linked to meat, while 99.73 percent of those infections are associated with antibiotic use in humans."

Dr. Joseph Perrone, who served as an adviser to the World Health Organization, says, "It's not just over-prescription that poses a problem. Even when antibiotics are prescribed appropriately, too often patients fail to finish the full course of antibiotics once they begin to feel better—or when they're sick of dealing with the drugs' side effects such as nausea and vomiting. Failure to finish the full dose means that some of the bacteria may survive. In some cases, the body's natural defenses will kick in and fight the remaining bacteria. For others, the remaining bacteria can develop resistance to the antibiotic prescribed."

Examples published in Emerging Infectious Disease, illustrate patient perceptions about antibiotics in patient care: 27 percent believed taking antibiotics during a cold made them better; and 48 percent expected antibiotics when seeking medical care with a cold.

"It is important to remember that antibiotics are important for an animal's health and wellbeing," says Dr. Justin Bergeron with the University of Minnesota Center for Animal Health and Food Safety. "When humans are sick, we need to take the appropriate medication to get better. Animals have the same need."
Both animal and human health experts are diligent in helping disseminate a balanced understanding of the antibiotics issue to consumers.

But it's not enough.

Every time you talk with your non-farming friends, health-care providers, children's teachers, or anyone else, share the facts about antibiotic resistance. Begin a dialogue. Help them realize it's everyone's obligation to use antibiotics responsibly to protect and maintain the health of both human and animal populations.