Lessons From Abroad

Antibiotic resistance is now a global problem, and we're not helping.

Food & farming

Anya Vanecek

Years ago, antibiotic resistance was known as a rich-country’s problem. This is no longer the case.

“Resistance is getting to be very high,” says Dr. Ramanan Laxminarayan, Director of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy (CDDEP) and author of the Center’s new report, The State of the World’s Antibiotics. “Resistance is a problem everywhere. It’s truly a global problem and requires an urgent response.”

The report maps antibiotic use in 69 countries and antibiotic resistance in 39 countries, and “[sounds] a warning to the world.” The correlation is clear: the misuse of antibiotics is driving the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and we must act to help stymie bad practices.

Around the world, both human and animal antibiotic use is rising dramatically, and with it, so too is antibiotic resistance. Though many of the countries studied still use less than half of the antibiotics used in the United States, the unnecessary and inappropriate use we see in our own country is happening nearly everywhere. So is the alarming rise of resistant bacterial infections.

One country with a resistance rate hovering near zero is Denmark, and it’s no surprise why. Denmark banned the use of antibiotics on livestock to prevent disease and promote growth in 1999. It’s worth noting that Denmark also does a good job of educating its citizens about antibiotics overuse. Danish patients rarely demand antibiotics from their doctors and cannot buy them over the counter, as is common in other countries. But if there is one thing to learn from Denmark, it’s this: to stop the rise of resistant bacteria and save antibiotics, we have to stop misusing them.

Using antibiotics inappropriately allows greater numbers of bacteria to inherit genes resistant to particular antibiotics, breeding “superbugs” that are resistant to one or more – even every — drug in the medical arsenal.

Despite the clear danger, it remains very common for factory farms to administer their animals low levels of antibiotics to promote growth and prevent disease in otherwise unlivable conditions. And this is totally legal. The strongest federal action taken is an FDA guideline that asks pharmaceutical companies to voluntarily remove ‘for growth promotion’ from their drug labels, and says nothing about use for disease prevention.

That’s hardly strong action. What the U.S. has done to combat antibiotics overuse falls far short of that of our peers, and of what we must do in order to save antibiotics.

The CDDEP’s report makes it clear that we must follow in Denmark’s footsteps and put an end to the routine use of antibiotics in factory farming here at home. But we don’t have to wait for the government to act. As consumers, we can push for change ourselves.

This is why we’ve switched our sights to major restaurants which care a lot about what their potential customers want, and buy a lot of meat. By switching to meat raised without routine antibiotics, these chains can help push the market towards more responsible practices. But they won’t change unless they know consumers demand it. Sign our petition to convince Subway to use its tremendous market power to put an end to meat raised on routine antibiotics.


Anya Vanecek

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