Antibiotics In Food Can Affect Patients

Scientists are saying that hospitals should combat the spread of antibiotic resistance by refusing to buy meat from animals that were given antibiotics for growth promotion.

For the last two years, University of California San Francisco Medical Center has been phasing out meat from animals that were routinely fed antibiotics, and now nearly a third of the meat served to patients, as well as in the medical center’s cafeterias and catering operations, comes from animals that were only given antibiotics in the case of illness.

Experts warn that the overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture is endangering human health. Agricultural use accounts for nearly 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in the United States, and the vast majority are from classes used to treat infections in people.

“This practice encourages the development of resistance,” said Thomas B. Newman, MD, MPH, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics, as well as pediatrics at UCSF, and an author of the commentary, which appeared in theAmerican Journal of Public Health. “Antibiotics are now more and more recognized as a precious resource that needs to be managed sustainably.”

The Infectious Diseases Society of America estimates that antibiotic resistance is costing the U.S. health care sector between $21 and $34 billion a year.

“Because the actions of federal legislators and regulators remain insufficient, it is time for the health care sector to expand its stewardship over these lifesaving drugs beyond clinical practice,” said Michael J. Martin, MD, MPH, MBA, an assistant clinical professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at UCSF and the lead author of the opinion.

The authors said health care providers have an ethical imperative to oppose the overuse of antibiotics and should lead on this issue, just as they have with public health campaigns against smoking.

“Hospitals have a moral responsibility to serve the community and patients,” Martin said.

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