Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Antibiotics in meat: What you need to know

Antibiotics in meat
Should I be concerned about antibiotics in the meat I serve my baby?

Well, most experts say it's unlikely that you or your baby will be harmed in the immediate future by the practice of giving antibiotics to livestock. But it is something that you should be concerned about because of its potential threat to public health.

Many farmers who raise cows, chickens, and other livestock use antibiotics to treat animals that are sick or at a high risk of becoming sick. In addition to using antibiotics for treatment, though, some critics believe that the industry relies too heavily on antibiotics to fatten livestock and to compensate for unsanitary and crowded conditions in industrial-size farms — despite guidelines for antibiotic use, which specify that they be used judiciously

How can people be affected by the antibiotics that farmers use for animals?

The main concern isn't that the antibiotics will be transferred to you or your baby, but that they will increase the antibiotic resistance of bacteria that we all contend with. Experts warn that there are already many strains of bacteria that no longer respond to antibiotics.

Just as a child's taking antibiotics unnecessarily contributes to increased resistance in some strains of bacteria, overusing antibiotics in agriculture is contributing to the emergence of bacteria that are resistant to common antibiotics. The more an antibiotic is used, the more the bacteria will become resistant to it.

Also, if too little antibiotic is used (as is often the case when antibiotics are used on healthy animals), it won't kill all the bacteria — and the survivors can grow and multiply into resistant strains.

Some of these bacteria can spread to humans when proper handling and cooking procedures aren't followed. Bacteria can be consumed in meat that hasn't been heated to the proper temperature before serving, for example. And campylobacter (a bacteria found in the intestines of chickens) can be spread by handling raw chicken and not washing up afterward.

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