Raising animals on a diet of antibiotics produces healthier and larger livestock but it’s also contributing to increased incidences of drug-resistant bacteria, according to national and state health officials.
UC-San Francisco scientists, asserting that health care providers should be leading the way toward social change, are urging hospitals to stop buying and serving meat from animals raised on a steady diet of antibiotics.
“Hospitals have a moral responsibility to serve the community and patients,” said Michael Martin, assistant clinical professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at UCSF and lead author of an opinion piece published last week in the American Journal of Public Health.
CDC estimates drug-resistant infections cause two million human illnesses and 23,000 deaths a year. The Infectious Diseases Society of America estimates antibiotic resistance costs the U.S. health care system between $21 billion and $34 billion a year.
Although federal regulators have recognized the problem and urged agricultural leaders to reduce the use of antibiotics, the FDA has not prohibited the routine use of antibiotics in animal feed.
“Because the actions of federal legislators and regulators remain insufficient, it is time for the health care sector to expand its stewardship over these lifesaving drugs beyond clinical practice,” Martin said in a prepared release accompanying the paper “Antibiotics Overuse in Animal Agriculture: A Call to Action for Health Care Providers.”
A few days before the paper was published, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a bill making California’s limits on the use of antibiotics in healthy animals some of the strictest in the country.
New regulations under SB 27 requiring veterinarians to approve the use of medications in livestock take effect in 2018.
Martin and his UCSF colleagues said hospitals “have an ethical imperative” and should lead the way on the issue in the same way they were among the first institutions to ban smoking tobacco.
UCSF Medical Center two years ago began phasing out the use of meat from animals routinely given antibiotics. About one third of the meat served to patients and in hospital cafeterias comes from animals given antibiotics only as a medical response to illness. Costs have risen for beef, but not for chicken, according to UCSF officials.
“People are asking for healthy food for themselves and the planet, and they’re willing to pay for it,” said Dan Henroid, director of food and services at UCSF Medical Center.