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August 10, 2017

Antibiotics keep animals healthy, but some dangerous superbugs are resistant

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  • As high-density, industrial-scale livestock feeding operations become the norm, farmers have had to take extra steps to keep animals healthy. Illnesses and diseases grow and spread quickly when large numbers of similar animals are kept in close proximity. Many livestock raisers choose to inject their animals with large quantities of antibiotics to fight disease.
  • Missouri pig farmer Russians Kremer, the fifth generation in his family to farm his plot of land, knows firsthand the dangerous repercussions of widespread antibiotic use. “My pigs were unhealthy. I would go through my pigpens three times a day, injecting them with antibiotics to cure some sort of chronic diseases that I had on my place,” he said. “And, in fact, I was actually growing superbugs in this farm and didn’t know it.” “Superbugs” are viruses that have been exposed to antibiotics so much that they have evolved to become resistant to them. That means that antibiotics aren’t an effective treatment if they make a human or animal sick.
  • Kremer found out that he had been breeding superbugs when he was gored in the leg by a boar and sustained a severe infection. His doctor told him to take antibiotics, but they didn’t work. “We tried two different tetracyclines. We tried streptomycin. We tried erythromycin, amoxicillin, seven different antibiotics in total, to no avail…It came back resistant, resistant, resistant,” he said. Fortunately, a new-generation antibiotic was able to save his leg and his life.
  • Lance Price of George Washington University said that we have engineered a system that makes animals sick and that the use of antibiotics in livestock has a strong correlation with the spread of superbugs in humans. “So, on every grocery store shelf in this country, I guarantee you you’re going to find drug-resistant bacteria on the meats of those shelves,” he said.

  1. Essential question: How does the way in which we farm our food affect public health?
  2. How do you think farmers can keep their animals healthy without using excessive antibiotics?
  3. How could superbugs affect public health for humans if they become widespread?

Key Term:

antibiotic: a medicine that inhibits the growth of or destroys microorganisms such as bacteria

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