Study finds growing use of antibiotics in livestock across globe

Nine-day-old chicks drink water at a Foster Farms ranch near Turlock, California June 16, 2014. A new study indicated a global trend of growing use of antimicrobials in livestock production. Photo by Max Whittaker/Reuters

Global use of antimicrobials in livestock production is growing, according to a new study published Thursday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

According to the study, livestock producers across the globe used more than 63,000 tons of antibiotics in 2010. That number is expected to rise by 67 percent in the next 15 years and double in Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, a projection that reflects soaring demand for meat worldwide, the researchers said.

"People are getting richer and want to eat more meat," Thomas Van Boeckel, a Princeton University epidemiologist who co-authored the study, told The Huffington Post. "Antibiotics help to provide a lot of meat for people who can afford it."

While antibiotics can prevent disease and increase growth in cattle, chickens and pigs, bacteria exposed to the drugs can become antibiotic-resistant, posing a threat to both livestock and humans.

Ramanan Laxminarayan, the study's senior author and director of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy in Washington, D.C. told NPR that the "circumstantial evidence, linking use in animals to drug-resistant bacteria in humans, is exceedingly strong."

Pharmaceutical companies and agricultural groups have said there is no evidence that these drug-resistant bacteria are a threat to people's health.

Europe has already scaled back on the use of antibiotics on animals, allowing their use only to prevent infections. Early this month, two U.S. senators introduced a bill that would limit how long an antibiotic can be used for preventing or controlling disease.

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