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Antibiotic Resistance

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antibiotic resistance

Source: Union of Concened Scientists

UCS's antibiotic resistance project focuses on reducing the use of antibiotics in food animals. Working in concert with environmental, public health, and other organizations, we have pushed the issue of the misuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture into the national spotlight.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are on the rise. Patients once effectively treated for pneumonia, tuberculosis, or ear infections may now have to try three or more antibiotics before they find one that works. And as more bacterial strains develop resistance, more people will die because effective antibiotics are not identified quickly enough or because the bacteria causing the disease are resistant to all available antibiotics.

Why have bacterial strains become resistant? The short answer is overuse of antibiotics. Physicians and hospitals have overprescribed the drugs, and patients have demanded them—even for illnesses not caused by bacteria. Veterinarians, too, overprescribe drugs to treat sick animals.

It is livestock producers, however, who use the vast majority of antibiotics produced in the United States. An estimated 70 percent of antibiotics and related drugs produced in this country are used for nontherapeutic purposes such as accelerating animal growth and compensating for overcrowded and unsanitary conditions on large-scale confinement facilities known as "factory farms." This translates to about 25 million pounds of antibiotics and related drugs fed every year to livestock for nontherapeutic purposes—almost eight times the amount given to humans to treat disease.

While members of the medical profession have started to address antibiotic overuse in human medicine to slow the emergence of resistant bacteria, it is equally important to act now to eliminate nonessential agricultural uses. Both the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization have stated that antibiotics on which we depend for human medicine should no longer be used as growth promoters in agriculture.

A reduction in antibiotic use would have the added benefit of pushing livestock management in the direction of more sustainable practices.

UCS strives to achieve a reduction in antibiotic use in animal agriculture by promoting scientific analysis and citizen input in many venues, including:

* United States Congress
UCS promotes legislation to phase out medically important antibiotics from use in animal agriculture for nontherapeutic purposes.

* Private corporations
UCS calls on corporate meat producers and retailers to take responsibility for their role in the rise of antibiotic-resistant disease and voluntarily curb antibiotic use.

* Federal agencies
UCS urges the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban or severely limit the use of antibiotics for nontherapeutic purposes such as growth promotion or disease prevention. UCS closely follows actions by the FDA and other government agencies, providing scientific and citizen comments and feedback on regulatory rulemaking procedures.



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