Throughout America, infectious diseases are emerging that we may not be able to cure because bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics.
Over the last 60 years, effective antibiotics have turned bacterial infections into treatable conditions, rather than the life-threatening scourges they once were. The effectiveness of many life-saving antibiotics is, however, waning. Health experts have deemed the rise in antibiotic resistance a public health crisis. Everyone is at risk from antibiotic-resistant infections, but children, seniors, and people with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable.
The overuse of antibiotics is to blame. A major source of this overuse is routine use of antibiotics as feed additives for livestock and poultry – not to treat disease, but instead to promote growth and compensate for crowded, stressful, unsanitary conditions. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that 70% of all antibiotics in the U.S. are used as feed additives for pigs, poultry and cattle. In June 2001, the American Medical Association first went on record opposing the routine feeding of medically important antibiotics to livestock and poultry (i.e., "nontherapeutic" use).
Antibiotic use in animal agriculture has been linked definitively to human bacterial infections resistant to antibiotics. Mounting evidence suggests that widespread overuse of agricultural antibiotics also may be contaminating surface waters and groundwater, including drinking water sources in many rural areas. Nonetheless, agribusiness and the pharmaceutical industry are fighting hard to thwart restrictions on the use of antibiotics in agriculture.