A report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 2 million people get sick from antibiotic-resistant infections, and at least 23,000 die as a result. Titled "Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States, 2013," the report lays out how superbugs grow and spread and an action plan for reducing this risk. The bottom line is pretty clear: antibiotics should only be used to treat infections.
That means antibiotic drugs should not be used preventatively, a common practice on industrial-scale livestock operations. According to the Pew Health Initiative, 29.9 million pounds of antibiotics were sold for use in livestock, nearly four times the amount sold for human use.
As you can see from the infographic above, which is included in the report, the use of antibiotics in farm animals leads to an increased risk of antibiotic resistant infections in humans. The report states:
Because of the link between antibiotic use in food-producing animals and the occurrence of antibiotic-resistant infections in humans, antibiotics should be used in food-producing animals only under veterinary oversight and only to manage and treat infectious diseases, not to promote growth. CDC encourages and supports efforts to minimize inappropriate use of antibiotics in humans and animals, including FDA’s strategy to promote the judicious use of antibiotics that are important in treating humans.
Tom Philpott at Mother Jones points out even FDA's voluntary guidelines are too lax:
They would phase out growth promotion as a legitimate use for antibiotics, but still accept disease prevention as a worthy reason for feeding them to animals. As I wrote at the time, "The industry can simply claim it's using antibiotics preventively and go on about its business—continuing to reap the benefits of growth promotion and continuing to menace public health by breeding resistance."
Hopefully this new report will push policy makers towards a more robust regulation of antibiotics in our food supply.