By Julie Murphree, Arizona Farm Bureau: The overuse of antibiotics has caused three kinds of bacteria to become urgent threats to health in the United States, federal officials said in a landmark report last week. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report is the first to categorize the threat of such germs, from “urgent” to “serious” to “concerning.” It is also the first to quantify the toll of “superbugs,” which cause at least 2 million infections and 23,000 deaths each year.


Analysis of the CDC report by American Farm Bureau Federation staff indicates that contrary to the claims of activist groups and many national media outlets, the report contains only six mentions of animal use with no new information.  The largest antibiotic resistance threats are not connected to the use of antibiotics to keep food animals healthy. The report, Antibiotic resistance Threats in the United States, 2013 is a detailed account of what specific threats are of most concern.  

The biggest culprit is Americans' overuse of antibiotics or the lack of properly using prescribed antibiotics. 


Animal agriculture maintains a stellar track record on this account despite what activist groups might tell you. In Arizona agriculture, our experts tell us the importance of antibiotic use in animal care.


“Opponents of antibiotic use in food animals claim that we don’t need antibacterials to produce meat and eggs, that their use has lead to a significant increase in antibiotic resistant bacterial infections in humans, and that their use reduces the effectiveness of human medicines,” says Alyn M. McClure, DVM with Herd Health Management in Arizona. “Some purport that antibacterial-free farming makes food safer. The truth is that antibiotic use in food animals makes them healthier which makes our food safer. Chickens raised without antibiotics are three times more likely to carry bacteria that can make people sick. When the EU phased out certain antibiotic uses there was no discernable improvement in food safety. Food handling and preparation has a much greater impact on food safety. In the U.S., food-borne pathogens decreased by 15 to 49% from 1996 to 2001 following the implementation of the new FSIS/HACCP (Food Safety Inspection Service/Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) regulations. Proper food handling and cooking prevents human infection by food-borne pathogens.”


“It’s not too late” to respond, rein in the infections and keep antibiotics working by reserving them for when they are truly needed, but several steps must be taken right away, CDC Director Tom Frieden said.


The CDC identifies four core actions to prevent antibiotic resistance.

  1. Prevent infections and prevent the spread of resistance
    • CDC’s work to prevent infections and antibiotic resistance in Healthcare Settings
    • CDC’s work to prevent antibiotic resistance in the community
    • CDC’s work to prevent antibiotic resistance in food
  2. Track resistance patterns
  3. Improve prescribing and improve use
  4. Develop new antibiotic and diagnostic tests


 The CDC further suggests what we can do to prevent resistance to antibiotics.

  • Take antibiotics only as prescribed by your doctor and complete the prescribed course of treatment. Antibiotics can be lifesaving medicines.
  • Tell your doctor if you have been on antibiotics and get diarrhea within a few months.
  • Wash your hands before eating and after using the bathroom.
  • Try to use a separate bathroom if you have diarrhea, or be sure the bathroom is cleaned well if someone with diarrhea has used it.


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