The Issue of the Usage of Antibiotics in Food Production: Economic Preservation or Possible Epidemic?

The production of food across the United states involves a variety of therapeutic and non-therapeutic antibiotic drug use in order to reduce costs of production by eliminating the possibility of disease and improve overall animal growth. According to Stuart Bi Levy, MiDt, “there are 15-17 million pounds of antibiotics used sub- therapeutically in the United States each year”. However, in recent years there has been a growing concern in the scientific community with respect to the non» therapeutic drugs given to animals that are either the exact same as those prescribed to humans or are somewhat similar.

The controversy of the usage of these antibiotics is that many scientists believe there is a link between the non-therapeutic drug treatments for animals and antibiotic resistance in humans. Though this seems like a plausible concern, the opponents of the scientific opinion (often those in the food industry) claim there is not enough concrete> discernible evidence for major changes to be made procedurally in the food industry.

Despite major changes to food production being enacted worldwide because of the scientific concern in this debate, scientists have had little luck in persuading the United States government to take action. Most countries around the world have banned the use of any antibiotics that are not strictly used for treating disease, yet those banned substances are still used in America. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) enacted a voluntary framework for the food production industry to follow; yet many scientists see this as a way of simply delaying the confrontation of the issue.

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In the United States, as of May 2013, 80% of the antibiotics used are fed to livestock (Estabrook), Scientists use true, nearly inexplicable stories of people who have had firsthand experience with antibiotic resistance, to support their claim that there is a link between antibiotic use in animals and resistance in humans.

There are many times where there are certain known factors that cause some antibiotics to be ineffective on diseased patients, but that was not the case with Simon Macario, an 18-month old child that died in 2004 from a disease called MRSA (Estabrook) In Macario’s case, “No one knows how Simon contracted the bacteria. He had never been to a hospital, once thought to be the primary incubators of MRSA He had a robust immune system. He wasn’t in childcare. He had no cuts through which the bacteria could infect him”, Within 24 hours of being rushed to the hospital, Simon passed away, even as doctors administered him “every antibiotic available” according to his mother, Everly (Estabrook), From that day on she vowed to never allow any antibiotic-treated food to ever enter her home, as the most likely cause of her sons death was a built-up resistance to antibiotics caused by the food he consumed in his short life.

This is just one of many cases cited by scientists in this debate, as they continue to search for a conclusive link between antibiotic-treated food and resistance in humans. Those who debunk the notion that there is a link are mostly those in the food industry, who often bring up the potential economic repercussions of enacting abrupt, major changes to the industry, as well as the lack of obvious evidence One such proponent of antibiotic usage in animals is a company called Iowa Farmer Today, which very recently wrote a detailed article in an attempt to dissuade people from establishing a connection between the food they produce and these stories of families dealing with antibiotic resistance. Those in the farm industry go about this persuasion by introducing to the conversation other possible ways of building up a resistance to an antibiotic, which many scientists see as just a way of covering up a potentially dangerous issue.

One cause of antibiotic resistance brought up by Iowa Farmer Today was the overuse of antibiotics by many people, in the case that they self-diagnose themselves with an infection, and many times the drug they use is not effective against the bug in their system and only increases the risk of antibiotic resistance down the road (IFT). A statistic relevant to the food industry‘s argument is that “In 2012, approximately 200,000 tissue samples were taken from beef alone and less than 1,000 tested positive for a residue” (IFT 2), which they use to counter the argument by scientists that people can contract disease from improperly-cooked meat This is an example of an argument style belonging to the proponents of antibiotic use in animals that is similar to the style of scientists: the use of experimental data to prove a point Scientists use mysterious and inexplicable stories to encourage the awareness of the potential effects antibiotics in food can have on people, yet there has also been a gradual rise in the use of case studies to better understand the issue.

Tara Smith from the University of Iowa set out in 2009 to try and get a better understanding by testing the people in families that owned large, commercial pig operations, with nine farmers that did NOT use antibiotics in their animals, and nine farmers that did administer antibiotics to their animals (Estabrook). The results were intriguing, as Smith found that half of the nine farmers that did use antibiotics on their farms were carrying resistant bacteria, and that the nine farmers who did not use antibiotics had no strain of itt This is one of many cases that certainly give merit to the argument by scientists nationwide, but simply is not concrete enough and has too many other factors to be considered clear evidence that there is a link between animals and humans. Another method of persuasion used by those in food industry who believe in antibiotic use as necessary is the hypothetical situation of the FDA imposing strict guidelines on the food industry as a result of this inconclusive evidence, with the economic repercussions in mind.

This strays away from most of the debate, which is almost entirely scientific, yet it is certainly relevant. According to a report from an economic journal in 2002, “The results show that a ban on growth promotants for swine would he costly, totaling $232.5 million annually, with swine producers sharing the larger portion in the short run and consumers sharing the larger portion in the long run”. Considering this report was from 2002, those in the farm industry argue the effects of a ban would be even more devastating today when accounting for inflation. The term “sharing“ in this report meaning the recompense for the losses, which would be initially covered by the food industry, yet in the long run putting a burden on consumers. The main cause of these potentially huge losses would be eliminating the main benefit of using antibiotics in animals aside from treating disease: “[The] routine use of antibiotics in food animals increases protein production and reduces prices”.

Those in the food industry argue that this idea of a ban would be economically illogical not because ofjust the sheer numbers provided by this report, but also due to the fact the economy is still fairly weak, six years removed from the “Great Recession” of 2008. This debate has raged on for decades, picking up steam in recent years, and the controversy at hand is certainly mind-boggling in that both sides have respectable arguments and evidence to support their claims The proposed solution by scientists is to find a way to effectively eliminate antibiotics used by both the food industry and the doctors who treat humans, without causing severe economic setbacks in the slow regrowth of the US. economy. This is obviously far easier said than done, and those in the food industry believe that acting on “premature” evidence, as mttch the world did in their bans of antibiotics all over, would do more harm than good in the long run.

Though it seems like little is being done by the FDA with regards to this debate, the voluntary guidelines imposed by them in 2013 should be seen as reasonable by those on both sides of the argument The scientists complain of the voluntary nature of these changes, yet according to Michael R, Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, “Based on our outreach, we have every reason to believe that animal pharmaceutical companies will support us in this effort” (FDA 1). The reasonable aspect of this policy is that it does not greatly affect the economy as many in the food industries had worried about, and it also accounts for the concern in the scientific community about few companies actually taking part in applying the proposed changes because the plan will be reevalttated in three years, Surely this may seem like a considerable amount of time from now, but the steps taken by the FDA seem to have effectively satisfied both sides of the debate, a task which seemed extremely daunting at the beginning of policy talks among those working in the FDA.

Another significant aspect of this plan is that for the companies that take part, the ttsage of antibiotics will be stricter in that ”Once manufacturers voluntarily make these changes, the affected products can then only be used in food»producing animals to treat, prevent or control disease under the order of or by prescription from a licensed veterinarian” (FDA), This is what concerned many scientists, as the belief was not simply that the antibiotics were being used in animals was the link to humans, but that it was the amount of animals receiving treatment. Many times an entire group of animals would be medicated in response to a veterinarian discovering disease in only one animalia simple and quick method to ensure none of the animals have the disease.

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The Issue of the Usage of Antibiotics in Food Production: Economic Preservation or Possible Epidemic?. (2023, May 15). Retrieved from

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