farm food

Antibiotic use in livestock is increasing and leading to greater antibiotic resistance

We’ve talked extensively about antibiotic resistance on the blog but we haven’t focused much on the impact that antibiotics given to livestock have on humans. Farmers give low doses of antibiotics to farm animals in order to not only prevent illnesses in their animals, but also to promote growth within their livestock. Animals being produced for food account for about 80% of antimicrobial use in the United States and bacteria in the animals become resistant to these antibiotics in the same fashion that they do in humans. As antibiotic use rises, more bacteria are becoming resistant and these bacteria are passed from animals to humans through the environment, consumption, and direct contact. An international research team from Europe, India, Africa, and the United States mapped the global consumption of antimicrobials in livestock.

The results were published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science (PNAS) and compared the use of antibiotics in livestock in 2010 to the projected use in 2030. The authors found that the global use of antibiotics in livestock will increase 67% in the 20 years between 2010 and 2030. This is largely a result of an increase in demand for meat by middle class individuals in countries like Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (BRICS). These BRICS countries have shifted their livestock production systems to be more cost-effective by increasing the use of antimicrobials to ensure the health of their animals and to promote growth.

This increase in antimicrobial use in animals is a compounded annual growth rate of 2.6% annual which is almost three times the annual growth rate of the human population (.98%) during the same time period. The authors found that in 2030, if new regulations are not put into place, approximately 30% of all antimicrobial use will be accounted for in the livestock industry in China.

Many countries, and specifically those in the developing world, do not regulate the use of antimicrobials in livestock production. While directly linking antibiotic use in animals to drug resistant infections in humans is very complex, it can be inferred that increase in antibiotic use leads to antibiotic resistant bacteria, and we have seen evidence of this in practice. In countries like India, where bacterial diseases are very prevalent and a major public health concern, antibiotics are a key factor in fighting these illnesses.  Increased resistance to bacteria by increased use of antibiotics in farm animals will only increasingly prevent the effectiveness of antibiotics in humans.  

The study authors call for global action to decrease the use of antibiotics used in animals that are raised for meat consumption. While the authors do state that this analysis was based on limited available data, largely in developed nations, the global trends of antibiotic use in livestock is concerning. 

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The views expressed in the blog are solely those of the author of the blog and not necessarily the American Microbiome Institute or any of our scientists, sponsors, donors, or affiliates.

Hand washing dishes may decrease risk of allergies

A study published on Monday by the journal Pediatrics has gotten a lot of press this week because it shows a connection between allergies in children and the method by which parents wash their dishes. Parents, especially new parents, often consider good hygiene as one of the most important factors in raising their new child, but according to the hygiene hypothesis it may be true that too much cleanliness actually negatively affects a young child.  Asthma, eczema, and other autoimmune diseases are becoming more common conditions in children, and each has been linked to the hygiene hypothesis.  Researchers in Sweden reinforced this link when they discovered a possible connection between allergies in children and whether dishes were washed by hand (less clean) or by machine (more clean) in their homes.

 The researchers sent a questionnaire to parents of children aged 7-8 which was filled out by 717 families in Molndal, Sweden and 312 families in Kiruna, Sweden. The questionnaire asked many questions pertaining to the children, including previous symptoms of asthma or eczema, method of washing dishes, and if their food was farm grown or fermented.  When examining the results it is important to remember that all forms of bias cannot be eliminated when doing surveys, because, among other reasons, it is difficult to get a perfectly random sample.

Results of the study showed that there were lower instances of allergies in children whose families washed their dishes mainly by hand rather than by machine. In addition, this effect was amplified if the children ate food that was either fermented or purchased from a farm (both of which should introduce diverse bacteria to the children).  Of course, there were other variables that were not inquired in the questionnaire that are also known to decrease rates of allergies in children, and which may be related to washing dishes by hand, for example a lower socioeconomic status.  Then again, the authors suggest that hand washing dishes may reasonably be responsible for these lower rates of allergies in children of lower socioeconomic status.

So, you may be wondering how exactly this pertains to the microbiome. Hand washing dishes cleans less thoroughly than highly efficient machines, which sounds gross, but the exposure to more microbes when you are young may help develop the microbiome and immune system.  While this study is not perfect, it still shows us that exposure to bacteria is potentially a good thing for the new and developing microbiome. 

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The views expressed in the blog are solely those of the author of the blog and not necessarily the American Microbiome Institute or any of our scientists, sponsors, donors, or affiliates.