CDC Confirms Widespread Use of Antibiotics Leads to Human Death

Monday Oct 28 | BY |
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“We didn’t ask for this!”
Antibiotics used in feedlots are contributing to superbugs that are killing Americans. A recent study found that about a third of the fish we eat isn’t what we think it is.

It was 1951 when the FDA first approved the use of antibiotics for use in animal feed. The decision was made based on studies showing the drugs helped chickens, pigs, and livestock put on extra weight.

It was only 18 years later, in 1969, that a committee of government experts in the U.K. concluded that the use of antibiotics in animals contributed to antibiotic resistance in humans.

We’ve known about this danger for nearly 45 years, and we still haven’t done anything about it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is trying to change that. On Monday, September 16th, 2013, they released a report linking the overuse of antibiotics in livestock to actual human illness and death. In their own words, the report “gives a first-ever snapshot of the burden and threats posed by the antibiotic-resistant germs having the most impact on human health.”

What the Report Said

The most startling news from the report is that it confirmed a link between the routine use of antibiotics in livestock and growing bacterial resistance that is killing at least 23,000 people a year. Here are some other key points:

  • An estimated at least 2 million antibiotic-resistance infections occur each year. (These were minimal estimates as the report counted only microbes resistant to multiple antibiotics, and included only hospital infections.)
  • At least 23,000 people die each year as a result of antibiotic-resistant infections. The actual number is likely to be much higher.
  • Almost 250,000 people each year require hospital care for Clostridium difficile infections. In most of these, the use of antibiotics was a major contributing factor leading to the illness. At least 14,000 people die each year in the U.S. alone from these infections, many of which could have been easily prevented.
  • Urgent threats include microbes Clostridium difficile, CRE, and Neisseria gonorrhoea.
  • Serious threats include a number of other microbes, like Acinetobacter, Campylobacter, Candida, Enterococcus, Salmonella, Staphylococcous aureus, and tuberculosis.
  • World health leaders have described antibiotic-resistant microorganisms as “nightmare bacteria” that “pose catastrophic threat” to people in every country in the world.
  • At least 70 percent of all antibiotics in the U.S. are used to speed growth of farm animals, or to prevent diseases among animals raised in feedlots.
  • Low-dose antibiotics administered regularly to large numbers of animals lead to antibiotic-resistant microbes.
  • The use of antibiotics for promoting growth in livestock is not necessary.

“Antimicrobial resistance is one of our most serious health threats,” wrote Dr. Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., Director of the CDC. “The loss of effective antibiotics will undermine our ability to fight infectious diseases and manage the infectious complications common in vulnerable patients undergoing chemotherapy for cancer, dialysis for renal failure, and surgery, especially organ transplantation, for which the ability to treat secondary infections is critical.”

According to the Pew Health Initiative, 29.9 million pounds of antibiotics were sold for use in livestock, nearly four times the amount sold for human use. These are mostly used in feedlots, where cattle are raised in crowded conditions and more likely to contract disease.

An interesting side note—a separate study published in JAMA Internal Medicine reported that patients who lived near farms and areas where manure were dumped were 38 percent more likely to develop a MRSA infection.

“These findings contribute to the growing concern about the potential health impacts of high-density livestock production,” the researchers wrote.

What We Can Do

The CDC recommends four general steps to take to start getting a handle on the problem:

  1. Prevent infections and prevent the spread of resistance
  2. Track resistant bacteria
  3. Improve the use of today’s antibiotics
  4. Promote the development of new antibiotics and develop new diagnostic tests for resistant bacteria

They suggest following the FDA’s guidelines, put out in April 2012, in working to attain these goals. The agency then proposed a voluntary initiative to phase in certain changes in how antimicrobial drugs are labeled and used in food-producing animals. They issued three documents to help veterinarians, farmers, and animal producers, advising them to target their use of the medicines only to address disease and health problems.

“Under this new voluntary initiative,” the agency stated, “certain antibiotics would not be used for so-called ‘production’ purposes, such as to enhance growth or improve feed efficiency in the animal.”

The three documents issued were:

  1. A guidance for industry that recommends phasing out the agricultural production use of medically important drugs, and phasing in veterinary oversight of therapeutic uses of these drugs.
  2. A draft guidance, open for public comment, that would assist drug companies in voluntarily removing production uses of antibiotics from their FDA-approved product labels.
  3. A draft proposed by the Veterinary Feed Directive regulation, open for public comment, that outlines ways veterinarians can authorize the use of certain animal drugs in feed.

The problem with this proposal, according to critics, is that it doesn’t require any action by those in the agricultural industry or by drug companies, and has no mechanism to track the adoption of these recommendations or to evaluate their effectiveness on antibiotic use and resistance. Therefore, so far, any real action has been limited.

Tom Philpott of Mother Jones notes that the FDA’s proposed new rules provide a large loophole, since they still accept disease prevention as a worthy reason for feeding antibiotics to animals. Without actually tracking this use, “The industry can simply claim it’s using antibiotics preventively and go on about its business—continuing to reap the benefits of growth promotion and continuing to menace public health by breeding resistance.”

In response, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has sued the FDA to force it to ban using antibiotics to promote growth in livestock. The case is now pending.

What You Can Do

The CDC is again trying to jolt the government into making real changes. But change takes time, and meanwhile, you and your family may be at risk.

Here are some tips you can take today to protect your family from the ingestion of unnecessary antibiotics:

  1. Buy organic—the guidelines prohibit the use of antibiotics for general production.
  2. Buy meats with “USDA Certified Organic” or “Raised Without Antibiotics: USDA Process Certified” on the label. Other good labels include “American Grassfed Certified,” “Animal Welfare Approved,” and “Certified Humane.”
  3. Investigate manufacturer and producer websites. Many will share their company philosophies on the use of antibiotics online.
  4. Check out this “meat map,” which shows where you can find meat raised without antibiotics across the country.
  5. Handle food carefully to avoid coming into contact with resistant bacteria.
  6. Urge your representatives to support the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA).

How do you avoid antibiotics in food? Please share any other tips you may have.

* * *

“A history of antibiotic use in farm animals,” Huffington Post, April 20, 2012,

“Threat Report 2013,” CDC,

Sabrina Tavernise, “Antibiotic-Resistant Infections Lead to 23,000 Deaths a Year, C.D.C. Finds,” The New York Times, September 16, 2013,

“FDA takes steps to protect public health,” FDA News Release, April 11, 2012,

“Record-High Antibiotic Sales for Meat and Poultry Production,” PEW Health Initiative, February 6, 2013,

Tom Philpott, “CDC Reveals Scary Truth About Factory Farms and Superbugs,” Mother Jones, September 18, 2013,

Joan A. Casey, “High-Density Livestock Operations, Crop Field Application of Manure, and Risk of Community-Associated Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus Infection in Pennsylvania,” JAMA Intern Med. September 16, 2013,

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story, a northwest-based writer, editor, and ghostwriter, has been creating non-fiction materials for individuals, corporations, and commercial magazines for over 17 years. She specializes in the health and wellness field, where she writes and ghostwrites books, e-books, blogs, magazine articles, and more.

Colleen is the founder of Writing and Wellness. Her fantasy novel, “Rise of the Sidenah,” was released with Jupiter Gardens Press in September 2015. Her literary novel, “Loreena’s Gift,” is forthcoming in spring 2016 from Dzanc Books. She lives in Idaho.

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