Antibiotic resistance is a growing threat in the U.S., use of antibiotics in farming feeds the issue.
Walmart, Wendy’s and McDonald’s beef suppliers have been sourcing meat from U.S. farms using antibiotics linked to the spread of superbugs, according to a recent investigation.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism and The Guardian obtained unpublished U.S. government records that reportedly reveal the farms packing or producing beef and meat that are still using the antibiotics. Cargill, Green Bay and JBS are among the farms responsible for supplying such beef.
The antibiotics being used, known as HP-CIAs, were classified as “highest priority critically important” to human health, reports The Guardian.
The World Health Organization has listed HP-CIAs as vital antibiotics to human medicine, and has said they should not be used in livestock farming. These antibiotics are often the final line of defense in fighting off infections, and if they are used in the food we eat, their effectiveness will wear off.
“The reckless overuse of medically important antibiotics on factory farms is a major contributor to this deadly public health threat,” said U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, per The Guardian. “Giant agribusinesses have built a system that is dependent on this misuse of antibiotics to maximize their profits, with no regard to the serious harm they are causing.”
Antibiotic resistance is a threat to modern medicine, and that threat is gaining strength. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Antimicrobial resistance happens when germs like bacteria and fungi develop the ability to defeat the drugs designed to kill them. … Resistant infections can be difficult, and sometimes impossible, to treat.”
Industrial farmers have relied on using antibiotics to prevent the spread of disease, but the extended use of these drugs give bacteria an opportunity to develop a resistance, and the drugs stop working, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported.
According to the CDC, more than 2.8 million people in the U.S. develop antimicrobial-resistant infections each year. Out of those cases, over 35,000 people die.
One of the beef suppliers, JBS, known for providing meat to Wendy’s, Walmart and Taco Bell, claimed it was not entirely responsible for the administration of antibiotics to livestock.
“We support the use of medically important antibiotics in our cattle supply under the supervision of licensed veterinarians for therapeutic use only, defined as prevention, control and treatment of disease, rather than growth promotion or improved feed efficiency,” a JBS spokesperson told The Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
Taco Bell told the bureau that it updated its meat standards in 2019, and that its meat now requires “U.S. and Canada suppliers to restrict antibiotics important to human health in beef supply chain by 25% by 2025.”
Antibiotics are used to treat infections in livestock, but they come with an added benefit — they allow livestock to grow quicker and larger than normal, reports National Geographic. With the demand for cheap meats, farmers have relied on this technique to deliver.
The Food and Drug Administration considers antibiotic resistance a growing public health issue worldwide. Some of the impacts of resistance to antibiotics include longer-lasting illness, more complicated illness and the need for stronger and more expensive drugs.
Dr. Sameer Patel, a specialist in infectious diseases at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, says he sees a troubling growth in antibiotic resistance among children. “You have to use more powerful antibiotics because you don’t want a patient to become more ill and die. And then you use those more powerful antibiotics and then eventually you get resistant to those antibiotics,” said Patel, per The Guardian.
To combat antibiotic resistance, the FDA recommends only taking antibiotics for bacterial infections, being vigilant about taking the antibiotics as prescribed, never saving or taking another person’s antibiotics and communicating with your health care professional.