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Bacterial resistance in animals and food crisis

What is the severity of bacterial resistance or superbugs?

The antibiotic resistance occurs naturally but due to misuse of antibiotic drugs by humans in every sphere of life has accelerated the rate of resistance. A study conducted in 2011 by National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System of the US has found that at least 50% samples of ground turkey, pork and beef in supermarkets were contaminated with resistant Salmonella, Campylobacter, and E.Coli. It is the ability of the bacteria to negate the effect of the antibiotic. Most of the bacteria are killed from antibiotics but some may survive and multiply. The bacteria can transfer their antibiotic resistance to other bacteria as well when they come in contact in the physical environment and gastrointestinal tracts of humans and animals. The threat to human health is increasing day by day. Many treatable diseases like pneumonia, tuberculosis etc. could become difficult to treat. In the US almost 23000 people die due to antibiotic resistance every year.


Earlier the antibiotics were used only for disease treatment in animals. But in the last 50 years due to the rising human population and demand for nutritious food, the antibiotics are also used in livestock, fishing, and crops. The feed and fodders are also witnessing the use of antibiotics. The genetically modified (GM) food crops can transfer the antibiotic resistance in humans. If this intensive use is not controlled then the death toll due to resistant bacteria can reach up to 10 million per year by 2050.

What are the socio and economic effects on humans due to bacteria resistance in animals?

The rural people and farmers earn their livelihood from rearing animals, therefore, they will become poorer if bacterial diseases to their animals are not cured. If drugs supplied to them are not effective then they can lose their animal wealth. Treating bacterial resistant diseases has become more challenging and costly. The laboratory tests are expensive. The high power medicines used to cure resistant bacteria can have long term side effects on the patients. The challenge of controlling the misuse of antibiotics is more in poor countries because they lack appropriate resources and capacity to monitor and control. Due to the threat of microbe resistance in animals the world can face food insecurity and development will be impacted.

How intensive agriculture is increasing bacterial resistance in animals?

The intensive production culture in animals and agriculture sector has increased this threat. The US and China are the largest users of antibiotics in agriculture. In the USA agriculture alone contributes to 80% antibiotics use. The demand for meat industry is huge and there is heavy use of antibiotics in raising pigs and chickens. These piglets and chicks are given antibiotics so that they can gain weight and grow quickly. The unhealthy intensive farming practices also lead to overuse of drugs. For example, newborn pigs are taken away from their mothers even before developing strong immunity. The lack of immunity causes sickness and hence more use of antibiotics. These animals are raised in large numbers and are crowded so bacterial resistances can spread easily by contact.

What are the resistant bacterial infections from animals?

Most of the diseases come from animals to humans so it is imperative to take care of animal health and promote the responsible use of antibiotics. The farmers are at risk of developing livestock-associated methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus(LA-MRSA). The common infections in humans caused by resistant bacteria in animals are salmonellosis and campylobacter. The foodborne resistant salmonella bacteria can cause more harm than a non-resistant version.

What are the examples of antibiotics used for growth promotion in agriculture?

The antibiotics not only used to treat the infections but also in faster development of animals. The growth promoting drugs like avoparcin, bacitracin, spiramycin etc are used in animals. Although they are banned in European countries like Sweden but in the rest of the world due to poor surveillance and monitoring system their misuse cannot be ignored.  Medicines like tetracyclines and aminoglycosides are used to protect fruits trees from fire blight disease which is caused by Erwinia amylovora bacterium.

How does a resistant bacterium in animals affect people?

We all know that animals have bacteria in their intestine. When they become sick due to bacteria they are treated with antibiotics. If somehow antibiotics are not given in a proper way then some of the bacteria become resistant and they survive, develop and multiply in animals. These resistant bacteria enter into our food systems through various channels. When the animals slaughtered or processed for food products the bacteria from animals can contaminate other food items too. When meat or food items produced by these animals are eaten they enter into our bodies. These bacteria also contaminate our environment and ecosystem. The bacteria through animal stool can also contaminate the drinking water and soil. We can also be infected when we touch or care for our pets. When contaminated water or fertilizers (produced from animal feces) are used for crop raising then these resistant bacteria enter into our food chain. The resistant genes from animals and farming can also be transferred into human pathogens.

Who is at more risk due to resistant bacteria in animals?

The farming community and people who handle raw meat and don’t prepare food safely are at more risk due to resistant bacteria caused by animals. The veterinarian health workers, people who work at slaughtering places and processing centers are also at great risk. By eating raw meat or poorly cooked food can infect people with resistant bacteria present in the animals.

How you can protect your family from resistant bacteria?

You can avoid infections by taking appropriate preventive measures. The healthy and sustainable practices at home and workplace can help in protecting you, your family and communities.

  • Take antibiotics when there is a need, avoid overdoses and stop the bad habit of self-medication. Without consultation from certified health care workers, the antibiotics should not be used. Don’t abandon the course in the middle. Never use leftover medicines and don’t give them to anyone for the use.

  • While preparing foods from meat, beef, chicken, pork, and lamb the safety measures should be taken. The raw foods must be cooked at proper temperatures. The beef, pork, lamb and veal should be cooked at 145°F, foods poultry items at 165°F and ground meat at 160°F. The refrigerator temperature should be below 40°F.Use different cutting boards for food that will be eaten without cooking. Wash hands before touching raw foods, cutting boards and utensils before and after the cooking.

  • The animals should not be given an overdose of antibiotics and without certified veterinarians. These should be used to treat the sickness and not for growth and feed promotion.

  • While raising animals, the chicks and piglets should not be separated too early from their mothers. The early separation from mothers is not good for developing strong immunity power.

  • There should be continuous efforts from governments to bring behavior change in the people and awareness about bacterial infections. The consumers should develop a habit of eating organic foods and meat which are not grown from the use of antibiotics

  • Proper monitoring, surveillance and reporting systems should be in place to stop the further spread of the resistant bacteria and control the influx of antibiotics. If there is a case of antibacterial resistance then it should be reported to the appropriate authorities.

  • There should be serious research and development for new drugs which can effectively fight the emerging threat of resistant bacteria. Life-Saving drugs should be saved.

  • The proper vaccinations should be taken at the right time. The animals should also be vaccinated to reduce the need for antibiotics. 

  • Health workers should sterilize the instruments used in the treatment to stop the spread of the infections to other people.

  • The proper guidelines and standards should be in place for effective treatment and stopping over prescription. Promote the responsible use of drugs

  • Improve the hygiene, sanitation and provide the safe feed and fodder to animals.

  • Since the global trade in agriculture and food products spreads the bacterial resistances from one region of the earth to another. Therefore all precautionary and safe handling measures should be taken during transportation and trade.

  • Promoting sustainable farming practices and reducing the stress of animals will help in decreasing the overall use of antibiotics.

  • The withdrawal periods should be followed strictly when animals are treated with antibiotics. The drugs should mention withdrawal period on their labels.

  • The ill practices of using drugs to fatten the animals on the pretext of treating diseases should be monitored and stopped.

  • Control and prevent pollution so that resistant bacteria transmission through water, air and soil can be stopped.

  • Take a healthy diet and do exercises daily. These healthy lifestyles will boost body immunity to fight against the infections.

If the rate of bacterial resistance is not controlled in animals and food crops then it can pose a great threat to world food security and health in the coming time. Most of our food systems would become contaminated by bacterial resistance. At one end people would not get healthy food and on the other end, the current stock of antibiotics would become ineffective to life taking diseases. The high-end surgeries and cancer therapy require powerful antibiotics to prevent infections. The resistance against powerful antibiotic fluoroquinolone would be fatal because this drug is required to treat infections in intensive care units.

No class of new antibiotics discovered since 1985, therefore, the rising of superbugs demands a new set of drugs. Today the problem of superbugs has become more severe. Almost all foods have antibiotics. People from remote villages without any history of antibiotics are already drug resistant before any treatment. Governments across the world need to formulate stringent policies so that the misuse of antibiotics in feeds and foods can be stopped. The food standard protocols need to be followed in letter and spirit. People need to be educated on what they are eating, what their food contains and what the possible consequences of eating such food are.

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