Antibiotic Resistance Now Affects More Food Animals, Increases Disease Risk

Antibiotic resistance puts many people at risk of serious infections in many parts of the world. Now, the problem has reached animals, which scientists said may contribute to a large-scale food supply problem.

A new study, published in the journal Science, found a growing number of animals losing the ability to fight infections with medications. The list includes multiple sources of meat for human consumption.

Researchers said if antibiotic resistance continues to affect animals, low- and middle-income countries may experience a significant decrease in the availability of animal protein. They noted the problem occurs amid the growing demand for meat by different populations. 

Animals receive antibiotics three times a day to fight diseases. Many countries rely on large-scale meat production systems that also use the medications for growth promotion. 

Researchers said antibiotic resistance in animals may greatly affect producers and consumers in developing countries. But the impact may also be significant in low- and middle-income countries, where resistance rates among animals are still undetermined. 

"Animal production is increasing worldwide and the consequences of intensive use of antibiotics on resistance in animals is amply clear from our analysis,” Ramanan Laxminarayan, study author and director of Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy, said in a statement. “We have a small window of opportunity to help low- and middle-income countries transition to more sustainable farming practices.”

The findings come from the analysis of data from surveys that focused on reported rates of antibiotic resistance in animals and food products from 2000 to 2018. Researchers examined the data using a geospatial model to determine and to map resistance trends in food animals in different countries. 

Results showed that food animals increased antibiotic resistance by more than 50 percent between 2000 and 2018. These animals include chickens, pigs and cattle in certain areas in Brazil, China, India, Iran, Johannesburg, Mexico City, Pakistan, Turkey and Vietnam. 

Researchers said tetracyclines, sulfonamides and penicillins became less effective in these animals, the medications which are widely used in food production. 

The team called on governments of the affected countries to address the growing antibiotic resistance in animals since it could also affect human health.

Pig Swine flu viruses, H1N1 and H3N2, are common in pig populations across the U.S. and spread through close contact and exposure to contaminated objects. Pixabay