Feeding Antibiotics to Healthy Animals Risks Children’s Health

The influential American Academy of Pediatrics, an organization of 66,000 pediatricians, has added its voice to the growing movement of public health professionals who are demanding an end to the dangerous overuse of antibiotics in meat and poultry production.

2015 technical report by Dr. Jerome A. Paulson and Dr. Theoklis E. Zaoutis of the AAP Council on Environmental Health and Committee on Infectious Diseases described how the widespread agricultural practice of dosing healthy, if overcrowded, livestock and poultry with antibiotics to induce weight gain and prevent disease has contributed to the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant microbes.

“Infants and children are affected by transmission of [antibiotic-resistant, disease-causing pathogens] through the food supply, direct contact with animals, and environmental pathways,” they wrote. “For most [food-borne] infections, incidence was highest among children younger than 5 years.” And when antibiotics fail, these children are in a fight for their lives.

Paulson and Zaoutis took aim at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, whose guidelines urge meat producers to take voluntary measures to curb the use of antibiotics on healthy animals, yet lack any real enforcement power.

“Because the lines between disease prevention and growth promotion are not always clear,” they wrote, “the current FDA policy may allow drug manufacturers to continue using ambiguous language on labels of antibiotic drugs.”

“The message is to change the practice of agribusiness, either through government changes or marketplace changes, so everybody is safer,” Paulson told CBS News. “I think if people vote with their pocketbooks, then industry will be required to change. Hopefully the USDA and the FDA will require them to change. I think this is something that with a large enough movement in society, the industry will be forced to change.”

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria cause about 23,000 deaths and 2 million illnesses in the U.S. each year, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And about one in five antibiotic-resistant infections are caused by germs from food and animals.

What can families do reduce their risk?

Take antibiotics only when necessary and use them precisely as instructed by your doctor. Click here to learn more tips from the CDC about antibiotics use.

Children, who are especially vulnerable to pathogens, can be exposed to antibiotic-resistant bacteria through contact with raw meat or farm animals. Treat all meat as if it is contaminated: keep it away from kids, cook it thoroughly and avoid cross-contamination in the kitchen.

When shopping for meat, look for labels that confirm no antibiotics have been used on healthy animals. These labels include:

  • USDA Certified Organic
  • Certified Humane
  • Animal Welfare Approved
  • American Grassfed Association
  • Food Alliance Certified – Grassfed
  • Global Animal Partnership

When dining out, ask restaurants where they buy their meat and their suppliers’ antibiotics policies. Some fast food chains such as Panera have already begun serving meat exclusively from animals that have not been treated with antibiotics.

You can find out what other companies are doing by reading this annual report by Friends of the Earth.

To learn more about how your family may be exposed to antibiotic-resistant bacteria and how to reduce your exposure, visit EWG’s Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change + Health.

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