Antibiotic resistance and meat: why we should be careful in assigning blame

Antibiotic resistance (AR) in animals is a formidable threat as a One Health issue. One Health means that a disease crosses all boundaries to infect animals, humans, and the environment. Noticeably, there is a high death toll from AR from food and animals: 20-30% of over 2.8 million cases are caused by such bacteria, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (20192020). In essence, this equates to over 560,000-840,000 cases. Overall, this discussion will address the key considerations of USDA's mechanisms to prevent AR, AR in animals being overlooked, and effective primary prevention methods.

Currently, the USDA has mechanisms like the "withdrawal period" and random meat inspection to prevent antibiotic resistance. Specifically, the "withdrawal period" is the amount of time that needs to be passed for an animal to metabolize the antibiotic fully and excrete the antibiotic residue so that the farmer can legally slaughter the animal (USDA, n.d.The Meat We Eat, 2017). Although this seems safe, the USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) randomly samples meat upon slaughter to discard meat with dangerous levels of antibiotic residue, rather than systematically sampling all products (USDA, n.d.The Meat We Eat, 2017). As a result, there is still a noticeable risk for AR meat.

My main concern is the existence of AR in animals that flies below the public radar. AR causes common infections to be nearly untreatable: this may occur among millions of animals to cause excruciating pain. Specifically, inadequate animal rights, profit-driven industry, and inadequate inspection frequencies may cause ineffective oversight of proper antibiotic administration. This is concerning because the most common antibiotic uses are for growth and prophylaxis--as a means to prevent production diseases. After speaking to an Animal Charity Evaluators representative, I learned that a significant pervasive issue is the inadequate frequency of auditing on animal farms. As a result, farmers are given adequate opportunities to neglect animals via legal loopholes. Overall, antibiotic resistance causing suffering animals is an important point that should be considered.

Lastly, people should focus on primary, rather than tertiary prevention. Primary prevention occurs before the disease occurs, while tertiary prevention occurs after the disease occurs to prevent disability. Primary prevention includes creating sanitary farm conditions and using vaccination over antibiotic use. For example, Norway eliminated antibiotic use in fish over the past decades by transitioning to vaccination, a safe and effective method to prevent antibiotic resistance (AR) and infection, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) (WHO, 2015). To counter concerns of vaccination causing fish stress, immersion vaccination is known to cause much less pain while being relatively effective compared to injection vaccination (Komar et al., 2006). Overall, antibiotic stewardship to animals should be the last resort via opting for primary prevention.

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If you are in the public health field, how do you plan to make use of your degree? I am interested in policy, so let me know if any of you have ideas or resources on that.

Biggest Biosecurity Threat? Antibiotic Resistance

Hi Aaron, thank you for your thoughtful response! The shallow cause writeup talked about public education on the "stewardship of existing antibiotic resources" ("Antibiotic Resistance," 2013). I do understand that the two statistics may imply separate cases but antibiotic misuse. However, the case study in France, the European nation with the highest antibiotic prescription rates, revealed that an campaign called “Antibiotics are not automatic” administered in France decreased prescriptions by 45% and antibiotic consumption by “26.5%. . . over 5 years" (Sabuncu et al., 2009). This reveals a negative association between antibiotic misuse and knowledge.

I am currently leading the Effective Altruism Club at UC Irvine, CA to integrate education on antibiotic resistance and antibiotic use into the elementary-level education with a form to educate and test parents of their knowledge as well. It is an ongoing project with Assemblywoman Petrie-Norris, so if you're interested, I can talk more about that as well.