A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science shows that China is using alarming amounts of antibiotics in their livestock. The medications are used to keep animals healthy in packed conditions and enhance their growth. China is currently the largest producer and consumer of antibiotics on the planet.
This is leading to antibiotic resistance in the animals that form the foundation of our food chain, which can promote infections in people that won't be susceptible to standard antibiotics.
A press release from a collaberator of the study, Michigan State University, stated: "It's urgent that we protect the effectiveness of our current antibiotics because discovering new ones is extremely difficult," said Yong-Guan Zhu, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the lead author on the PNAS paper. "Multidrug resistance is a global problem and must be addressed in a comprehensive manner."
Scientists found the presence of antibiotic resistance genes at hundreds to tens of thousands of times higher in bacteria that were isolated from animals from Chinese farms. This poses a public health threat because not only is the livestock affected, but their manure is often used as fertilizer for crops and the runoff from the animal farms may reach water sources, contaminating them with antibiotic resistant microbes.
This isn't only an issue in China. The FDA released a report last week indicating that in 2011 the amount of antibiotic purchased by the meat and poultry industries totaled, 29.9 million lbs., four times that which was used in people that year. Similar to China, much of the antibiotics are not used on sick animals, but rather to allow them to live in cramped spaces and promote their growth.
The FDA did enact new draft guidelines last year that would limit the use of antibiotics in animals to only those which were sick, and not healthy animals that farmers wanted to grow faster.
Yet, it seems unlikely that antibiotics will leave the mainstream food supply anytime soon.
The Study published in PNAS can be found here.