Food Animals Are More and More Resistant to Antibiotics, Study Shows, Which Could Hurt the People That Eat Them

Antimicrobial resistance in animals grown for food in low to medium income countries has nearly tripled since the year 2000, according to a recent study in Science Magazine. Chickens and pigs have shown a marked increase in resistant strains of bacteria.

Asian, African and South American countries have seen a giant upswing in commercial meat production. Often, these animals are given a steady stream of antibiotics along with their feed. After long-term exposure to these drugs, the bacteria learn how to resist the medication.

This bacteria can wind up infecting meat-eating humans, where it resists the medicines given to wipe them out. Potentially, this is a threat to human health.

The study states that 73 percent of all antimicrobials sold go into animals raised for food. This constitutes an overreliance on the antibiotics, which could lead to problems later as the bacteria continue to adapt to new medicines.

Although livestock production has plateaued in the U.S., the country has its own problems with bacterial resistance as well. Salmonella and campylobacter make hundreds of thousands of people sick every year.

Even when given antibiotics, animals still carry bacteria in their gut. Those bacteria, especially if resistant to antimicrobials, can spread when the host animal is slaughtered and processed. This can affect other meat products and even get into the water, which may be irrigated with contaminants.

bacteria, salmonella, bacterial resistance, food poisoning
Strains of salmonella resistant to antibiotics can be difficult to treat. Getty

Campylobacter, often contracted by eating raw or underprepared chicken, affects 1.3 people in the U.S. each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). International travel increases the chances of infection.

People can also spread it to each other by being in contact with anyone infected who does not wash their hands after using the restroom.

Hummus from Moby Dick House of Kabob was connected to 27 cases of salmonella in Maryland, Virginia and Washington D.C., according to Bethesda Magazine. Although the restaurants have been cleared to sell the hummus again, Virginia officials were still looking at the foodstuff as a likely cause of the outbreak.

"Because everything is mixed together [in hummus], if part of it is contaminated, the bacteria can spread throughout the product," said Katherin McCombs, manager of the foodborne disease epidemiology program with the Virginia Department of Health.

The hummus was produced at a separate processing plant and not by individual Moby Dick House of Kabob stores.

President Donald Trump's rollbacks to regulations employed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) could make things worse, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

New regulations published in September 2019 have no new federal testing standards for finding Salmonella in pork. There are also no performance standards for salmonella and campylobacter tests in poultry.