Dramatic increases in meat consumption in developing giants such as Brazil, Russia, India, and China mean we stand little chance of reducing the quantities of antibiotics in the food chain, a new study says.
The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences forecasts the geography of antibiotic overuse in the future.
It estimates that between 2010 and 2030, the global consumption of antibiotics will increase by 67%. About a third of that increase will come from increased livestock numbers – mainly chicken and pork – in developing countries.
The study comes as a new book warns of the twin risks facing the world of the increasing numbers of multi-drug–resistant bacteria, and the declining rate of antibacterial drug discovery.
Rising plague: The global threat from deadly bacteria and our dwindling arsenal to fight them by Brad Spellberg combines compelling stories of patients whose lives are destroyed by untreatable infections, with a broad epidemiological view of the problem.
It does not make for comfortable reading. There is a good review of the book on the National Center for Biotechnology Information website.
Cosmos recently looked at the issue of how antibiotics entered the food chain and its impact on drug resistance.
Unfortunately we are only at the beginning of our understanding of the problem.
The livestock industry continues to deny that antibiotics in animal feed bear much blame for the growing threat from drug-resistant pathogens. But evidence increasingly indicates that resistance routinely spills over from food animals to people, in ways we are only beginning to recognise. In one revealing study published in 2010, for instance, Public Health Agency of Canada researcher Lucie Dutil and her colleagues monitored the effects when the poultry industry in Quebec briefly suspended use of a standard antibiotic. Levels of resistant salmonella and E. coli on supermarket chicken promptly dropped, as did resistant salmonella infections in humans. When use of the antibiotic resumed, resistant bacteria soon reappeared in both meat products and in human consumers.
Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.
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