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Change Your World Week Fall 2021 (Archived)

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The Overuse of Antibiotics in Livestock

The Problem

Research has recently shown that the nontherapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock is leading to an increase in antibiotic resistance in humans (CDC, 2021). According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), US cattle producers use antibiotics 3-6 times more intensively than European cattle producers. The majority of the antibiotics are used on feedlots, which are responsible for the fattening of calves for market. Poor living conditions and a heavy grain diet in these feedlots result in many cases liver abscesses and bovine respiratory disease (“shipping fever”). However, even with the large amount of antibiotic use to prevent these conditions, the prevalence of these and other diseases have increased (Dall, 2020).

Vieira et al. addresses the public health risk with a longitudinal study of the relationship between antimicrobial-resistant E. coli from human wastewater and swine fecal samples that used antibiotics. The study revealed that there was a strongly significant correlation between animal strains (mainly poultry and pigs) and human strains when it came to drug resistance.

Overuse of antibiotics also has a negative influence on animal microbiomes. For example, piglets are naturally weaned from their mothers when they are about 3-4 months old. However, in the pork processing industry, piglets are weaned at anywhere from 3-4 weeks old. Because of lack of natural antibodies from their mothers’ milk, the piglets never develop a complete healthy and functioning immune system, which results in a loss of microbial diversity and imbalance between the harmful and beneficial bacteria in the gut. In reality, these pigs should already possess adequate immune systems, but because of forced increase in food production, we have created an unnecessary antibiotic regimen, which is now resulting in unnecessary antibiotic resistance in humans (Sandiou, 2018).

What is Being Done?

Unfortunately, curbing the use of antibiotics has moved very slowly at the federal level. In 2014, the White House released the National Strategy to Combat Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria, but the Strategy has fallen short of its original goals and does not mandate data collection on how the antibiotics are being used. In 2016, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued guidance documents that no longer allow antibiotics to be used for growth promotion in livestock (Martin et al, 2015). While there has been a large call for restrictions on nontherapuetic antibiotics in livestock from the public, it is not the White House or the FDA who is putting up the biggest fight on this issue.

One of the largest contributors to change is McDonald’s restaurants who have paired with beef suppliers, not only in the United States, but also in nine other countries, in order to control the amount of medically important antibiotics in their beef supply and are looking at reducing the numbers by the end of 2020. According the NRDC, the number of antibiotic free chickens used by major poultry producers increased from 50% in 2013 to more than 90% at the end of 2018. Because many of the fast-food companies that were responsible for this medically significant change are also major beef purchasers, we hope to see the same kind of change in the beef industry (Dall, 2020).

While these regulations at the commercial and federal levels are taking slow steps at helping the cause, where we really need to see big change is in the way the feedlots are managed. Dall discusses how the introduction of vaccinations, the increasing of roughage in the calves’ diets, better living conditions before they are shipped, and developing a different protocol to avoid mixing different groups of cattle while in transit. This is such a large-scale production that we need change on all levels in order to see real a real difference. Fortunately, there is a chance for us to see this difference by reaching out to large scale livestock consumers such as fast food restaurants and petitioning them to only purchase meat from antibiotic conscious producers.

The Opposition

Opposition to this cause stems from the worry that if antibiotic regulations are put in place, there will not longer be the same sense of “guaranteed human food security and public health” due to the increased possibility of transferring untreated pathogens from animals to humans (Hao et al, 2014). Another concern is that the availability of meat from nontherapeutic animals may not be constant and production costs, which result in consumer costs, will increase (Martin et al, 2015). Casewell et al. discussses this in a European study where the ban of growth promoters was associated with a deterioration in animal health, including increased diarrhea, weight loss and mortality due to Escherichia coli and Lawsonia intracellularis in pigs, and clostridial necrotic enteritis in broilers.

However, there are also arguments for the use of specific antibiotics in livestock that do not transfer to the human genome. For example, Callaway et al. discusses the use of ionophores as growth-promotants in cattle because they are extremely complex and contain a high degree of specificity when it comes to their resistance mechanisms. Callaway also cites other research by Dealy and Moeller in which ionophore-like antimicrobial bambermycin actually decreased the number of E. coli that as resistant to multiple antibiotics, including streptomycin, oxytetracycline, and tetracycline in swine. Bambermycin was also used in a study in sheep in 2003 where the number of E. coli isolates were decreased and showed resistance to fewer antibiotics overall when compared to a control.

What Do You Think?

Do you think that there should be more regulation when it comes to the use of antibiotics in U.S. livestock?
Yes: 10 votes (100%)
No: 0 votes (0%)
Total Votes: 10

Taking Action

 As consumers, we all vote with our dollars. If large scale feedlots and meat producers see that the public and more specifically, large scale consumers like fast food restaurants, are purchasing antibiotic free meat, there is a better chance that we will see a change in the overuse of antibiotics in livestock production. Some consumers are more likely to pay a slightly higher price for a higher quality product. Unfortunately, raising prices can create hardships for some Americans. However, the hope is that if we can make the regulation of antibiotic use in livestock a common production practice, that the demand for antibiotic free meat will decrease the cost as it becomes a common practice.

We have started a petition to take action by reaching out to large scale meat consumers such as Wendy's, Taco Bell, Arby's, and more, to get the word out about this threat to human healthcare. We have given them a brief educatation on the long term effect of antibiotics used in livestock and the overuse that is happening. 

Please lend us your voice and sign our petition below!

Works Cited

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, June 14). Food and Food Animals. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved October 11, 2021, from

“Food and Food Animals.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14 June 2021,

Callaway, T., Edrington, T., Rychlik, J., Genovese, K., Poole, T., Jung, Y., Bischoff, K., Anderson, R., & Nisbet, D. (2003). Ionophores: Their Use as Ruminant Growth Promotants and Impact on Food Safety. Current issues in intestinal microbiology, 4, 43-51.

Mark Casewell, Christian Friis, Enric Marco, Paul McMullin, Ian Phillips, The European ban on growth-promoting antibiotics and emerging consequences for human and animal health, Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, Volume 52, Issue 2, August 2003, Pages 159–161,

Chris Dall | News Reporter | CIDRAP News  | Jun 26, 2020. (2020, June 26). Report slams beef industry for overuse of antibiotics. CIDRAP. Retrieved October 11, 2021, from

Hao, H., Cheng, G., Iqbal, Z., Ai, X., Hussain, H. I., Huang, L., Dai, M., Wang, Y., Liu, Z., & Yuan, Z. (2014, June 12). Benefits and risks of antimicrobial use in food-producing animals. Frontiers in microbiology. Retrieved October 11, 2021, from

Landers, T. F., Cohen, B., Wittum, T. E., & Larson, E. L. (2012). A review of antibiotic use in food animals: perspective, policy, and potential. Public health reports (Washington, D.C. : 1974), 127(1), 4–22.

Martin, M. J., Thottathil, S. E., & Newman, T. B. (2015, December). Antibiotics overuse in animal agriculture: A call to action for health care providers.

Manyi-Loh, Christy, et al. “Antibiotic Use in Agriculture and Its Consequential Resistance in Environmental Sources: Potential Public Health Implications.” Molecules, vol. 23, no. 4, Apr. 2018, p. 795. EBSCOhost, doi:10.3390/molecules23040795.

Ma Z, Lee S, Jeong KC. Mitigating Antibiotic Resistance at the Livestock-Environment Interface:A Review. J Microbiol Biotechnol. 2019 Nov 28;29(11):1683-1692. doi: 10.4014/jmb.1909.09030. PMID: 31693837.

“Stop Using Antibiotics in Healthy Animals to Preserve Their Effectiveness.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization,

Pros and Cons of Antibiotics in Livestock Feed,