Posted: March 24th, 2023

Antibiotics Use in Animal Feeds and the Risk to Human Health

In the article “Antibiotics in Agriculture and the Risk to Human Health: How Worried Should We Be?” Chang et al. explore the use of antibiotics in animal feeds and their relation to human resistance to antibiotics. The authors believe that although research establishes a link between the two variables, the proof of the magnitude of the threat posed to human medicine is inconclusive. The researchers assert that while human antibiotic resistance can arise from agricultural antibiotic use through direct infection, breaches in species barrier, and transfer of resistance genes, banning antibiotic use in livestock is not a plausible solution.

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The authors support their claim using case studies. Firstly, to explain the mechanism of direct infection, they highlight a scenario of Campylobacter jejuni. These bacteria cause multiple contagions among humans and are associated with fluoroquinolone use among food-producing animals. In the scholars’ view, while previous studies show that the bacteria can be acquired directly after consuming contaminated beef, the prevalence of fluoroquinolone in livestock has not been confirmed. Secondly, Chang et al. note that statistics from prior studies on the incidence of mortality cases associated with antibiotic use evidence the triviality of the problem. For instance, the United States recorded less than 100 annual deaths caused by fluoroquinolone use in agriculture (Chang et al. 242). Hence, the authors conclude that previous research exaggerates agricultural antibiotic use’s threat to human lives.

The researchers also use case analysis to explain the mechanism of the transfer of resistance genes from agriculture into human pathogens. The scholars note that instances of interspecies transmission of resistance strain originating from livestock are evident. They use the example of Staphylococcus infections among people in Denmark, which arise without direct contact with food-producing animals. The authors argue that although interspecies carriage of pathogens is probable, conclusive evidence is lacking.

In the article, banning antibiotic use in agriculture is linked to several flaws. The scholars assert that no direct correlation exists between prohibiting antibiotic use in agriculture and reducing the occurrence of some infections, such as vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE) in humans. Chang et al. give an example of outcomes from a ban implemented in Europe. While the avoparcin ban reduced the prevalence of VRE in farm animals, similar results were not replicated in humans. The researchers emphasize this aspect by giving another scenario of the fluoroquinolone ban in the United States that yielded the same outcomes. Besides, Chang et al. note that the policy may have dire consequences on public health because most antibiotics prevent the transmission of pathogens from animals to people. Consequently, the authors conclude that the measure has many limitations; for instance, it can facilitate or has minimal effect on the carriage of antibiotic resistance across the food chain.

Overall, Chang and colleagues provide alternative solutions to banning antibiotic use in agriculture. They note that identifying the right balance of drug use is essential in preventing selective pressure on human pathogens. However, the scholars acknowledge that it would be difficult to establish the appropriate quantity of antibiotics because limited data is available. Hence, to avoid such hindrances, academics encourage the agricultural industry to cooperate with future researchers and present accurate data on the consumption of antibiotics. Besides, the scholars suggest that antibiotics regulations should be implemented before identifying antibiotic-resistant strains on human beings since the effects are often irreversible if infections and pathogens cross the species barrier.

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