As a physician, I’m gravely concerned about antibiotic resistance and the role that agriculture plays in this growing problem.
The word is out in the medical community: Physicians increasingly recognize infections that can’t be treated with antibiotics and reserve them for when a body can’t clear an illness on its own.
What is out of our control, however, is the inappropriate use of human antibiotics in livestock.
Human Antibiotics Use on Livestock
As a Marylander, I am glad that legislators in Annapolis will soon consider bills to limit the use of human antibiotics in livestock that are not sick. Estimates are that a shocking 70% of the medically important antibiotics sold in the United States are sold to raise chickens, hogs, and cattle on large farms. Far too often, antibiotics are used in sub-therapeutic doses just to force animals to gain weight or prevent disease caused by unsanitary conditions or improper diet. I am contacting my state legislators, urging them to sign onto legislation to curb this practice.
Send a message to your Senators and Delegates urging them to keep antibiotics working.
Most people don’t realize we have more than 100 trillion bacteria in our bodies. In our guts, healthy bacteria are fundamental to digestion. When we take antibiotics, we destroy good bacteria along with bad bacteria, and it takes months for our intestinal tract to return to its baseline—and that’s with a good diet. In the presence of antibiotics, the bad bacteria develop a defense mechanism to stay alive—drug resistant genes. These genes put the future success of antibiotics in jeopardy.
Unfortunately, we are already seeing a decline in antibiotic efficacy because of bacteria resistance. The notion of "super bugs" is real and potentially deadly. Furthermore, giving antibiotics to animals puts farmers at risk for resistant infections and this could potentially spread into the population. We need a strategy that protects us and the simplest answer is to eliminate unnecessary antibiotic usage in both people and animals.
We can’t afford to think that we will always have a pill to rescue us when we are sick. We have newer infections developing, and smarter infections evolving. We must reserve antibiotics for when they are absolutely necessary—now, before it’s too late. Chickens are often given routine doses of tetracycline antibiotics just to fatten them up. These drugs are the foundational treatment for Lyme Disease. How long before tetracyclines no longer work in humans?
How You Can Help
Please send a message to your legislators urging them to address the overuse of antibiotics in livestock.If you are not a Maryland resident, you can still send a note to your state and/or local legislators urging them to take action on this issue, and by encouraging the adoption of procurement practices in your community that prioritize purchasing animal products raised without routine use of antibiotics for schools and hospitals.
When you opt for animal products, buy those produced without antibiotics, and opt for free range eggs and and grass fed meat. Buy as close to nature as possible. Together, we can support farms that are fair and keep antibiotics working for all of us.
Tracy I. Freeman, M.D. lives in Maryland. National Integrated Health Associates, NIHA, ia a leading integrative medical and dental center serving the Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia metropolitan area, although patients come from all over the United States.