Released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP), Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States 2013 makes for stark reading from its very first line: “Antimicrobial resistance is one of our most serious health threats.”
The heavy use of drugs in industrialised meat production has led to a pandemic of superbugs that are immune to antibiotics, effectively evolving beyond the capability of modern medicine to treat them.
The US relies heavily on antibiotics to keep livestock and poultry healthy, and allow them to grow, in numbers and in conditions they were not built to survive.
Almost 30 million pounds (13,600 tonnes) of antibiotics were pumped into animals in the US in 2011 – four times the amount that was used to treat illness in humans.
The CDCP report estimates that every year more than 2 million people succumb to drug-resistant bacteria from the meat supply. More than 23,000 people die.
It recommends a clampdown on the blanket use of antibiotics in livestock and poultry – specifically that they be used only when an animal is ill, rather than to help the meat industry protect its bottom line.
“Antibiotics must be used judiciously in humans and animals because both uses contribute to not only the emergence, but also the persistence and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria,” the report says.
“Antibiotics should be used in food-producing animals only under veterinary oversight and only to manage and treat infectious diseases, not to promote growth.”