Farmers will do just about anything to make sure their livestock remain safe and put. This is, however, sometimes compromised by diseases, with the situation pushing them to the corner that they turn to inducing human antibiotics on their beef and poultry. This should be bad news to meat and poultry lovers who think all is well at the source of the meat they buy around the corner. But why do farmers have to go this far?
Ranchers and farmers have been feeding antibiotics to the animals we eat since they discovered decades ago that small doses of antibiotics administered daily would make most animals gain as much as 3 percent more weight than they otherwise would. In an industry where profits are measured in pennies per animal, such weight gain was revolutionary.
Although it is still unclear exactly why feeding small “sub-therapeutic” doses of antibiotics, like tetracycline, to animals makes them gain weight, there is some evidence to indicate that the antibiotics kill the flora that would normally thrive in the animals’ intestines, thereby allowing the animals to utilize their food more effectively.
The meat industry doesn’t publicize its use of antibiotics, so accurate information on the amount of antibiotics given to food animals is hard to come by. Stuart B. Levy, M.D., who has studied the subject for years, estimates that there are 15-17 million pounds of antibiotics used sub-therapeutically in the United States each year. Antibiotics are given to animals for therapeutic reasons, but that use isn’t as controversial because few argue that sick animals should not be treated.
Feeding animals with antibiotics may help to an extent. But on the other end, it also has its downsides; and this is where the real concern comes in. The use of human antibiotics on livestock meant for consumption is a real risk to human health, since these chemicals cause development of antibiotic resistant bacterial strains in the animal products.
The problem with feeding antibiotics to animals that are not sick is that it kills weak bacteria and creates the perfect environment for antibiotic-resistant bacteria to multiply and thrive.
Due to public health risks associated with antibiotics’ resistance, there is need to end the use of low doses of medically important antibiotics to prevent the development of antibiotic resistant bacterial strains. By eliminating routine, non-therapeutic uses of antibiotics, the poultry industry can reduce the potential for antibiotic resistance and ensure these important drugs remain effective for treating human.
And if it can, are the illnesses rare occurrences, and the risks theoretical, or could current usage in animals pose a serious threat to human health. Research has indicated that there is a connection between antibiotic use in animals and the loss of effectiveness of these drugs in human medicine. Take an example of salmonellosis. Research has shown that the continuous sub-therapeutic use of amoxicillin in livestock led to the flow of a distinct salmonella strain to human through livestock products, which later on acquired clinical salmonellosis.
With the increased use of human antibiotics on farm animals and poultry headed for the benchmark, fast food chains have switched to finding out ways to minimize the menace, at least for the good of their customers’ health. This may not be achieved as such, but the better part is that something is being done to tame the situation.
Not all fast-food chains have been changing with the times, however, as a recent report from a consortium of consumer and food safety groups gave 16 chains Fs on antibiotic use in meat, including Burger King, KFC, Dunkin’ Donuts, Sonic and Starbucks.
Still, it’s clear that the trend is moving toward healthy eating, as the study noted that twice as many restaurants as the year before received passing grades. Shareholders at KFC-parent Yum! Brands (NYSE: YUM) even pushed the company to adopt stronger measures on using meat from animals treated with antibiotics, a sign that the issue is of growing concern to investors as well as consumers.
While classic fast-food meals like burgers and fries will remain popular with a certain segment of the country, fast-food and fast-casual chains that cater to growing demand for healthy and organic foods should continue to find the most success. Traditional foods chains like McDonald’s are adapting for good reason.