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Antibiotics on the Farm

80% of the antibiotics sold in the US are fed to chickens, pigs, cows and other animals that people eat, yet the farmers who raise these animals are not required to report on which drugs they use on what types of animals, and in what quantities they use them.. This lack of data makes it difficult to find out what relationship between routine antibiotic use in animals and antibiotic-resistant infections in people is. Infections from antibiotic resistant superbug bacteria kill thousands of people every year.

Just this year, a mysterious type of superbug bacteria began to turn up on chicken breasts, the most commonly eaten meat in America, but scientists had no data on what antibiotics the chickens might have been given that would help them to combat this problem.

In the September 4th edition of the New York Times, Sabrina Tavernise quotes environmental health scientist Keeve Nachman as saying, "It's like facing off against a major public health crisis with one hand tied behind our backs."

Many of these drugs are sold over in feed stores. In 1977, the FDA announced that it would begin banning some agricultural uses of antibiotics, but the agricultural interests in the House and Senate passed resolutions against any these bans.

Tavernise writes: "The scale of the problem became clear in 2010 when the FDA began publishing total pharmaceutical company sales of antibiotics for use in animals raised for human consumption. It turned out that an overwhelming majority of antibiotics produced went to animals, not people. But there is still a glaring lack of information about how the drugs are used."

She quotes researcher Glenn Morris as saying, "The single biggest problem we face in infectious disease today is the rapid growth of resistance to antibiotics. Human use contributes to that, but use in animals clearly has a part too."

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