A Ticking Time Bomb: Eliminating Antibiotic Overuse in Animal Agriculture

Gary Cohen, President, Healthier Hospitals Initiative and Health Care Without Harm

September 30, 2014

Huffington Post

Antibiotics serve as the foundation of modern medicine. We rely on them for everything from treating small cuts and scrapes to protecting patients from infections during open-heart surgeries. And yet antibiotic resistance -- when bacteria do not respond to the drugs designed to kill them -- threatens to dismantle nearly 100 years of medical advances.

We are already seeing the health and financial impacts of these so-called "superbugs." Around 23,000 Americans die from antibiotic resistant infections each year and thousands more succumb to longer, riskier, and more expensive hospital stays. Antibiotic resistance costs the United States $20 billion a year in direct health care expenses and $35 billion a year in lost productivity.

Tom Frieden, the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recently called antibiotic resistance "one of the biggest health threats of our time ... a ticking time bomb." And in its most recent report, the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology offers recommendations to address this growing crisis, including: creating an interagency task force, increasing funding for public health surveillance and response, and creating new antibiotics.

These are all important steps in addressing antibiotic resistance in the United States. However, a common misconception is that antibiotics are primarily used in clinical medicine. While antibiotics are an essential part of the health care we receive, the vast majority of antimicrobials are used for industrial animal agriculture -- around four times the amount used in human medicine.

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