Across the world, the antibiotics that farmers use to prevent illness in their animals are losing effectiveness as bacteria develop antibiotic resistance. According to new research, it’s a huge problem, one that’s been masked by a longstanding focus on the risk that resistant bacteria pose to humans instead.
This trend in the animal world carries a double danger. Long term, these resistant bacteria could travel to people, creating untreatable, hard-to-contain infections. But even now, within the meat industry, routine use of antibiotics is harming farmers’ ability to raise animals and treat them if they get sick.
The problem isn’t universal. The global hot spots for antibiotic resistance in animals are China and India, Brazil and Turkey, Iran and Kenya, and a handful of other emerging economies—exactly the places where rising demand for meat is spurring huge expansions in industrial-scale animal farming.
This is all revealed in a complex analysis published today in Science, the product of four years in which a multinational team of researchers hunted down more than 900 studies published between 2000 and 2018. Across those years, the proportion of bacteria that no longer responded to many of the drugs used to treat them tripled. Those bacteria were harvested from pigs and chickens, the most important meat animals in the developing world. Read more …