What Do Farms and Antibiotic Drugs Have in Common?

It may seem like an odd connection, but farms and drugs are closer than you think. Just how much do we use antibiotics to treat and prevent illness? Of the many people who have taken antibiotics during their lifetime as prescribed from a doctor, how many have never had any? It’s pretty certain that number would be exceedingly low. The use of antibiotics for everything from strep to staph infections to the common cold has become proliferate in modern society. It is not uncommon for a person to take antibiotic drugs 3 – 5 times per year.

From Medical News Today, a November 2008 article released the following information:

“in 35 hospitals studied in 2006, about 63.5% of discharged patients (492,721 of 775,731) received an antibacterial drug. Data from five years in 22 hospitals revealed that between 2002 and 2006, the average total antibacterial use increased from 798 days of therapy per every 1,000 patient-days to 855 per 1,000 patient-days”.

According to a recent article in Infectious Disease News:

The National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey was used in 1992 to assess antibiotic prescribing practices for children given a diagnosis of common cold, upper respiratory tract infection, or bronchitis (Nyquist et al, JAMA). This study found that antibiotics were prescribed to 44% of children with common colds, 46% with upper respiratory tract infections, and 75% with bronchitis. The same study reported that an estimated 53 percent of children ages 3 -17 who presented with sore throats and tested positive for step bacteria were administered antibiotics.

Antibiotics on the farm

Besides the doctor’s office and hospital, much of the meat and dairy products we eat contain antibiotics. According to The Union of Concerned Scientists, approximately 70 percent of all antibiotics in the U.S. are now fed to animals raised for human consumption.  For decades farmers have administered antibiotics to animals to keep them from getting sick – and the sickness rate is high in a factory farm environment where animals are crammed together in close quarters, standing in their own feces and unable to move to cleaner areas, and are fed the wrong kinds of foods – genetically-modified grains, corns, and soy – which make ruminants sick (that’s cattle), who are intended to eat and digest grasses, clover, and alfalfa.

Animals receive antibiotics such as tetracyclines, Penicillins, sulfonamidesin, and macrolides, directly in their feed and/or water, and this low-grade dosing continues throughout most of their short lives. The practice of treating all animals – even those who aren’t sick – encourages the growth and mutation of virulent strains of bacteria that can and do spread to humans.

“Antibiotic medicines are losing effectiveness on humans due to their increased use in animal feed,” said Margaret Mellon, Ph.D, JD, director of the food and environment program for the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Animals raised in natural environments rarely require the use of antibiotics. Americans who choose meat produced this way are making conscious decisions to ensure that  antibiotics will still be working when they or their family need them.”

Here are some startling statistics (from Orville Schell, “The Reliance on Drugs in the U.S. Meat Industry) :

  • In 1979, U.S. pharmaceutical manufacturers marketed $243.7 million worth of antibiotics for animal use. Since 1960, the annual consumption rate has risen almost ten-fold. In 1978, the FDA estimated that over six million pounds of antibiotics ended up in animals, much of it in meat producing animals for human consumption.
  • Since 1949, when anti-microbial feed additives were first discovered to promote weight gain as well as control disease, more than one billion head of cattle have been raised with them. In the U.S., almost all chickens and turkeys, 85 percent of all hogs, 75 percent of all cattle and 50 percent of all sheep are now fed low daily doses of antibiotics for prolonged periods of time.

What happens when we consume meat full of antibiotics?

The continued consumption of antibiotic-containing meat increases the rate of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the world. According to information released by The Pew Charitable Trusts, food-borne illnesses are becoming more difficult to treat due to the increase in antibiotic-resistant strains and the decreased effectiveness of antibiotics used as a first-line defense.

Food-borne bacteria are caused largely as a result of repeated antibiotic use. More dangerous even than their antibiotic-resistant counterparts, food-borne bacteria are more difficult to treat and may require multiple dosing of antibiotics, lengthier hospital stays, and various other interventions before being destroyed.

This resistant bacteria has been the cause of an additional burden on our health care system to the tune of 4 to 5 billion dollars annually. Of roughly 2.4 million Campylobacter infections in the U.S., nearly half of these have been found to be resistant to at least one antibiotic. Nearly 14 percent of these are resistant to at least two or more drugs.

Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD., C.N.S. (author of Nutrition With A Mission and The Fast Track Detox Diet) says that when you eat a large amount of protein and cheese from conventionally-raised animals, you are taking into your body secondhand antibiotics from those animals – and that those drugs basically kill off your body’s store of friendly bacteria (stored in your digestive tract which houses your immune system), making you vulnerable to disease and illness. Without these good bacteria, you cannot digest vitamins, eliminate toxins, nor absorb fiber. When your body is depleted of this flora, you are at risk for developing diseases such as cirrhosis of the liver, diabetes, candida, irritable bowel, and many others.

The vegetarian argument against eating meat

Vegetarians and vegans alike will site the presence of antibiotics in meat as a good reason to avoid eating it. There are a variety of other reasons vegetarians offer against meat eating as well. But the rationale behind avoiding  meat fails to take into account the fact that good, naturally-raised meats are available which do not have these health risks and should be eaten in order to maintain health. If all you are eating is factory-raised meat, then there are certainly many reasons why that variety is harmful to health and should be avoided.

For more information about healthy meat, read:

Why Meat Gets the Heat

Whole and Healthy Meat…Does it Really Exist?

Fruits and vegetables are not exempt

Conventionally produced produce is can also be exposed to antibiotics. When farmers use fertilizer from animals that are administered antibiotics, those substances are transferred to the growing fruits and vegetables.

The Journal of Environmental Quality released a report in 2005 ( published in New Standard News) that three test crops – corn, green onions and cabbage were found to absorb chlortetracycline through the soil in which they are grown. “The drug, which is part of the tetracycline class of antibiotics, is often administered to pigs and other farmed animals as part of their food. Since the animals cannot process all of the drug, it is passed along in feces, which are then packaged and sold for use as fertilizer.

Earlier studies examining the use of antibiotics in animal feed found that their presence can kill or stunt plant growth. The overuse of antibiotics can also contribute to antibiotic-resistant bacteria and germ strains”.

What can you do to avoid antibiotics?

Maintain a healthy diet: avoid ALL conventionally-raised meats, dairy products, and produce! Here is a list of things to eat:

  • Organic, grass-fed meats (beef, lamb, pork, and game) and pasture-raised poultry, eggs from pasture-raised poultry
  • Organic, fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Organically-sourced, healthy fats like extra virgin coconut and olive oil, palm oils, flax seed oil, real dairy products – milk butter, cheese, and cream – from pasture-raised cows
  • Organic raw nuts and seeds
  • True whole, organic grains that are sprouted and soaked
  • Home-made fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir, and lacto-fermented vegetables

If you maintain a healthy lifestyle and find yourself becoming sick, try natural treatments first before rushing to out for prescription drugs and other medications. Be willing to try several things before going on to pharmaceutical intervention – each person’s body is individual, and a one-size-fits all treatment plan simply won’t work for everyone.

Here is a short list of useful and powerful treatments for various ailments: colloidal silver, oil of oregano, raw, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar, coconut oil, aloe vera juice or gel, and a variety of many different herbs and plants. Seek the guidance of a  knowledgeable health care practioner who can guide you through treatment to maximize your dollar and minimize time you spend getting well.

This article is posted on Kelly The Kitchen Kop’s Real Food Wednesdays Carnival. Please take a look at all the other great real food articles posted there!

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1 Response so far »

  1. 1

    Great article, Raine! Antibiotics are invaluable for resolving dangerous infections, but are clearly not meant to be used in such a general and preventative nature. Hopefully we never get to the point where they’re completely ineffective.

    I especially like your comment about vegetarians. I respect people’s choices to not eat meat, but I don’t like campaigns suggesting that everyone should avoid meat because of animal cruelty and environmental pollution. As you suggested, simply avoid conventionally farmed products and buy only organically and sustainably produced foods.


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