Antibiotics Use In Meat Industry, Farming Needs Study

Release Date: March 18, 1998

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The possible link between the rise in bacterial resistance to antibiotics in humans and the pervasive use of antibiotics in the cattle, swine and poultry industries needs to be studied, according to Charles Ballow, Pharm.D., associate professor of pharmacy practice at the University at Buffalo and director of anti-infectives research with the Millard Fillmore Health System.

"It's quite clear that these organisms show up in our food chain and set us up for infection for resistant organisms," he said. "What data have been collected show that, for example, resistant organisms are already showing up in the intestines of farm workers."

Citing figures from a report published by the National Institute of Medicine, Ballow said that these industries used 18 million pounds of antibiotics in 1985 and that today's annual figure probably is much higher.

Antibiotics also are sprayed on fruit trees. In 1992, according to a report by the congressional Office of Technology Assessment, between 40,000 and 50,000 pounds of antibiotics were used in this way.

To date, Ballow said, no scientific studies have made the link between antibiotics in the food chain and diseases people get when they eat these animals or plants.

"We need to examine this in a scientific fashion, by entirely removing, or at least drastically cutting back, the use of antimicrobials in some animals and following people who eat them and then comparing those people to a control group that eats animals treated with antibiotics," he said.

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