Can We Wean Our Future Food Off Antibiotics?

chicken farm
Poultry probiotics may help wean chickens off regular doses of antibiotics. (Getty)

Each year, at least 23,000 Americans die from drug-resistant infections carried by so-called superbugs — pathogens that were once easily treatable but that can now withstand modern medicine’s full arsenal of antibiotics. And if recent forecasts are correct, it could get a lot worse.

Superbugs could in fact surpass cancer as a leading cause of death by 2050, according to the World Health Organization. The WHO and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with a number of leading scientists, have warned that the misuse and overuse of antibiotics in both humans and animals is the driving force behind this threat to public health.

The U.S. agriculture industry currently uses about three-fourths of the nation’s supply of the drugs, mostly in the name of promoting growth and preventing disease — and experts suggest this can result in real consequences for human health. Animal antibiotics, and the extra-strong bacteria that often accompany them, can reach people via any number of pathways.

“Regardless of how much or how little food production has contributed to the problem, we need to rethink how we use antibiotics across society,” said Matthew Koci, a poultry science expert at North Carolina State University.

To that end, the White House, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Walmart have all independently made statements in the past month to the effect that the animals we eat need to be weaned off their routine low doses of antibiotics. The push continued last Tuesday, when advocacy groups sent a letter to the world’s largest fast-food chain, Subway, asking the company to join the growing list of major buyers and producers that have —> Read More