U researchers find antibiotic use in animals is beneficial

Sam Boeser

Using antibiotics in chickens bred for consumption could be beneficial for people who eat them, a team of researchers found.

The team, led by Dr. Randall Singer of the University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, created a mathematical model that examines the use of antibiotics in food production and found that people who consumed animals given antibiotics would be sick less often.

Singer said antibiotics have been used for decades to promote growth, prevent disease or treat diseases already present.

“It’s such a logical relationship,” Singer said. “Healthier animals means people are eating food with less bacteria.”

Singer’s model also acknowledges that introducing antibiotics to animals bred for human consumption increases the bacteria’s resistance to antibiotics, but he said that risk is outweighed by the benefits of antibiotic use.

The Food and Drug Administration and the Joint Expert Technical Advisory Committee on Antibiotic Resistance have also conducted studies that prove this.

But some people said antibiotic use is not at the base of the issue.

“The reason these studies need to take place in the first place is because the animals are so overcrowded and are in such close proximity with no access to fresh air, that they’re not solving the real problem,” said Jason Ketola, of Compassionate Action for Animals.

Singer said he realizes that any way animals can be made healthier will improve the health of those who eat them, and antibiotics are only one of those ways.

“The main point to take away from this is that increases in animal illness leads to increased contamination of meat and an increase in human illness from meat consumption,” Singer said.

He said many previous studies focused on antibiotic resistance, but this was a more holistic approach that examined the risks and benefits simultaneously.

Singer presented his findings to the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy on Nov. 2 in Washington.

He said he plans to validate his model by applying it to a field study, possibly in a study on swine.

Singer is designing a field study that can be done on animals. He is seeking grants to fund his research.