Use Of Human Antibiotics In Food Industry Compromises Doctor's Ability To Treat Infections In Children

In recent years, numerous food companies have begun working with farmers to reduce the use of antibiotics in their livestock. McDonald's has vowed to eliminate all antibiotics that are important to human medicine in their chicken by March 2017. Similarly, Perdue has exceeded the Federal Drug Administration's voluntary guidelines for antibiotic use by eliminating its use in all hatcheries and animal feed. These efforts are in response to widespread concern about the overuse of antibiotics in food and the potential effects on human health.

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A new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics confirms the validity of these concerns. According to AAP, doctors' ability to treat life-threatening infections in children has been compromised by the use of human antibiotics and other antimicrobial drugs in livestock. Farmers commonly use these types of drugs to promote growth in animals. They also use drugs and other chemicals to prevent the transmission of disease between animals in crowded conditions. While this increases food production and reduces food loss, it exposes the people who consume these animals to a myriad of antibiotics.

As a result, drugs have become ineffective when they're needed to treat infections in people. Children are especially vulnerable. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than two million people in the United States become ill with antibiotic-resistant infections every year, and more than 23,000 people die as a result. The World Health Organization announced last year that antibiotic resistant bacteria has spread worldwide and may lead to a future where minor infections could be lethal.

"Antibiotic resistance is becoming a bigger and bigger problem, both in kids and adults, so much so that some infections are becoming difficult, if not impossible, to treat," Dr. David Haslam, a pediatric infectious disease specialist and the Director of the Antimicrobial Stewardship Program at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Center, told CBS News. Children with compromised immune systems, such as those going through cancer treatment or organ transplants, are at an even greater risk.

Although some food companies are taking the necessary steps to reduce this threat, many feel that there is not enough urgency. Even the voluntary guidelines set forth by the FDA were met with opposition from the agriculture and farming industry. California passed the strictest limits in the nation just last month, prohibiting the use of antibiotics in healthy animals. The report's lead author, Dr. Jerome A. Paulson, hopes modifications in "the practice of agribusiness, either through government changes or marketplace changes" will contribute to a safer food industry.

In the meantime, Paulson encourages parents to be wary about antibiotic use in their children. Many illnesses, such as the common cold or viruses, are resolved on their own and do not require drugs. However, some pediatricians still over-prescribe antibiotics to treat them. Parents can also make a commitment to buying beef, poultry, and pork raised without antibiotics. Paulson feels that if people "vote with their pocketbooks" by only purchasing antibiotic-free food, "the industry will be required to change."

The accompanying slideshow is provided by fellow Daily Meal editorial staff member Dan Myers.