Animal Testing for Cosmetics Is Still (Unnecessarily) Common
Beauty•7 min read
Antibiotic resistance is a growing public health threat responsible for 1.2 million deaths worldwide. A leading driver of this crisis? Antibiotic use on factory farms.
Words by Grace Hussain
Antibiotic resistance is a major global public health crisis. Over 1.2 million people have died from infections resulting from antibiotic-resistant bacteria, with the number of casualties projected to increase by millions in the coming decades. One of the major drivers of antibiotic resistance is livestock farming. Animals are kept in crowded and often unhygienic conditions that encourage disease, and as a result farms resort to the excessive use of antibiotics to control infection.
The FDA reports that over 6 million kilograms of medically important antibiotics were used in the U.S. in 2020, down from a historic peak in 2015, but an increase since 2017. Worldwide, It’s estimated that roughly 73 percent of all medically important antibiotics are used in animal agriculture. Analysis suggests that global antibiotic use is set to continue to grow through at least 2030. Instead of being used to treat diseases, most of these antibiotics go toward preventing disease and increasing productivity.
The heavy use of these antibiotics in animals is driving the global rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which are causing diseases that killed over a million people worldwide in 2019, and are responsible for more than 35,000 deaths in the U.S. every year.
According to the FDA, more than half of the antibiotics used on farms in 2020 were medically important antibiotics — also used to treat humans — used by livestock producers to prevent disease and encourage productivity.
New rules from the FDA preventing the use of antibiotics solely to encourage growth in livestock went into effect in 2017, yet use of these drugs on farms remains at a high level. Antibiotics are generally necessary on factory farms to counteract the severe health impacts that stem from living in crowded and dirty conditions. Meanwhile, in the EU antibiotics for the purpose of “compensating for inadequate husbandry or poor hygiene” is illegal.
Most of the antibiotics used on factory farms in the U.S. are medically important. Of the 11 antibiotics that were reported to the FDA as being used in livestock in 2020, nine are medically important.
There are only two groups of antibiotics that are not considered medically important that are used heavily within animal agriculture.
Antibiotics are used in farming for two primary reasons: to increase efficiency and prevent disease. These two motives are connected, because disease spread can also have a large impact on productivity and efficiency. Although it is viral rather than bacterial, the ongoing avian flu pandemic is one such example. Entire flocks are killed once disease exposure is suspected.
Although giving antibiotics to livestock for the sole purpose of increasing growth is technically illegal in the U.S., the same antibiotics are often given as disease prevention in similar dosages and for similar time periods.
Livestock production systems are breeding grounds for disease. That’s why antibiotics are used to prevent disease from spreading, even in animal populations that show no signs of illness.
As was the case with Staphylococcus aureus, a bacteria that causes everything from minor skin infections to lethal blood infections, bacteria can spread from people who work on factory farms to animals and vice versa. Resistant bacteria spreads in the same way, often spreading in pathogens. Once enough resistant bacteria accumulates in a person or animal, antibiotics will no longer be effective at treating disease in that individual.
The primary reason that most antibiotics are used on factory farms is to compensate for a lack of hygiene and welfare. Given both the public health and animal welfare consequences of continuing to routinely administer antibiotics en masse to livestock, public health experts urge reduced or eliminated use of antibiotics for those reasons, recommending that they be used only when necessary to treat sick animals.
Antibiotic use varies by country. Brazil, China and the United States currently use the most antibiotics in livestock farming. However, the practice is projected to increase in several other countries as industrial agriculture continues to grow. These countries include Myanmar, Indonesia, Nigeria, Peru and Vietnam.
There are a variety of ways that giving antibiotics to animals can impact people. One risk is that there will be antibiotic residue in meat, though the risk is small in places with withdrawal periods before slaughter, during which time antibiotics cannot be given.
Another risk associated with giving antibiotics to livestock is that some of the resistant bacteria will be introduced directly to the consumer. However, if food is properly cooked the chances of this happening are minimal.
Every single time that an antibiotic is administered, whether to humans or animals, there is always some drug-resistant bacteria that remains in the body. The more that resistant bacteria is allowed to flourish the more it will spread — it’s also found in soil and water on farms, spreading easily between animals and humans. Factory farming contributes to the problem of antibiotic resistance due to the sheer quantity of antibiotics administered to farm animals.
Administering antibiotics in the food and water of livestock, whether they are ill or not, is routine practice on factory farms. This provides an opportunity for resistant bacteria to spread to staff or those who consume the meat if residue is still detected.
The role that the environment plays in spreading antibiotic-resistant bacteria is not fully understood. However, what researchers have discovered is that antibiotic-resistant bacteria are present in the natural environment, including in the soil and water. The bacteria comes from a number of sources, including human and animal waste.
Antibiotic resistance has been acknowledged as a public health threat by experts around the world. The World Health Organization calls it “one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and developments today.” As the situation worsens, a variety of infections are becoming increasingly difficult to treat, leading to a steadily increasing number of casualties.
Antibiotic resistance is a serious threat to global public health. Reducing meat consumption by shifting to a plant-rich diet is one way to help, as well as supporting public health advocacy groups. You can also donate to projects such as Transfarmation that seek to transition farmers out of raising livestock. If you’re a teacher or other educator, consider scheduling a presentation from Factory Farming Awareness Coalition, an organization that exists to educate students about the impacts of factory farming.
Diet•6 min read