How do we get the word out that our underlying conception of how regulations should be designed and enforced needs to change?
The New York Times has an ominous article about the overuse of antibiotics by the livestock industry and its risks for animal health and ours. Flooding our digestive system with these drugs damages the gut microbiome we depend on for nutrition and waste processing, and it promotes the evolution of resistant strains of bacteria. The upshot, according to this piece, is that 23,000 Americans die of antibiotic resistance each year, and it adds:
A growing body of scientific research also shows that the antibiotics we take as medicine can disrupt our so-called gut microbiome, the bacteria that live happily in our stomach and intestines and that are the key to our ability to properly digest food and process fats. This disruption has been linked to the rise of noncommunicable diseases such as obesity, juvenile diabetes, asthma and allergies. Some researchers also believe that alterations in the gut microbiome have led to an increase in the incidence of autism, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Ranchers lace their feed with antibiotics to speed up animal growth because it’s profitable. The risks are difficult for the public to appreciate, and the externality of reducing the effectiveness of legitimate antibiotic treatment is unpriced. This is a serious problem.
Regulation came to the rescue, sort of, in 2017 with the issuance of a rule by the Food and Drug Administration that requires livestock owners to get veterinary approval for administering antibiotics, with the criterion that the purpose has to be prevention of disease and not growth acceleration. That sounds like it should have been a solution, right? You don’t want to ban antibiotics altogether because sometimes there’s a valid reason for using them, so you require professionals to certify that only “good” uses are taking place.
The problem, as the article points out, is that it isn’t clear how much progress, if any, has been made in reducing the routine use of antibiotics in livestock feed. Ranchers are under pressure to continue pumping up growth, and veterinarians are under pressure to give the ranchers what they demand. An industry—any industry, including livestock—is an ecosystem, not a machine, with lots of unwritten rules and relationships, incentives, and local exigencies. You can specify how it’s supposed to work, but it may not work that way.
Fortunately, we have a paradigm for this: adaptive management, which in this case means adaptive regulation. Every regulation issued by an agency should have three components. First, it should have a set of rules for people to follow, as all of them do. But second, it should set up a system of data collection to assess how well the rules are working, and in what way. And third, it should specify a regular cycle of review and revision to put accumulated knowledge into practice.
The FDA antibiotic regs did #1 but not #2 or #3. It was a one-off, over-and-out performance, as most of our regulation tends to be. Regulators did not set up a surveillance or sampling system to see how and where antibiotic use was changing, much less build in an ongoing process of evaluating and improving the regulation itself. The upshot is that years have to go by, and the political forces for reform have to be assembled all over again to replace a defective rule by a better one. The NYT article is part of that process, which is good, but it’s a lousy process.
So: how do we get the word out that our underlying conception of how regulations should be designed and enforced needs to change?
(Source for image: Dreamtime.com)
Your citation says that, “scientific research also shows that the antibiotics we take as medicine can disrupt our so-called gut microbiome.” You then go on to discuss the use of antibiotics in livestock feed, but you do not cite any reference to research that shows such use to be harmful. Your citation is about “the antibiotics we take as medicine.”
It is not that I disagree with you, I do not. I agree that use of antibiotics in livestock feed is probably harmful and should be looked into and probably regulated, but the citation you provided does not even remotely support your position.
Don’t like to read? Read the link that Peter provided. The Times gives a good review of what antibiotics in the food chain will do to humans. It is also no secret that frequent use of antibiotics leads to resistance to it giving way to disease. Either way, the antibiotics get into your system.
No need to get the word out; just point out to the Trump administration that there is a regulation and they’ll erase it when those who want to make money bring it to their attention.
It’s a pity we don’t have the technology to track the sources of drug resistant bacteria. A few first degree murder convictions of agribusiness executives would temper things.
I did read the article. There is much speculation about humans contracting disease from drug resistant bacteria, although it is very short on any evidence or citations of studies to that effect, but there is no mention of human development of antibiotic resistance from consumption of animals other than, “the possibility that people who consume antibiotic-laced meat will get some of the drugs.” That is a very fleeting reference and is pure speculation without the slightest shred of evidence.
The use of antibiotics in feed has been an issue that was discussed when I was in school in the early 80’s.
The problem mostly is the bacterial resistance created by the use in animal feed, not so much that human develop resistance to antibiotics from the consumption of such feed meats.
It’s the bacteria that create resistance from what is considered over use of antibiotics in general. Animal feed use is just one of the routes of over use. Thus leading to ever more need for new antibiotics.
Remember when Cipro was the end all be all during the anthrax scare? It was horded? Couldn’t get it? Have you noticed how often it is now prescribed?
The drug manufacturers have been accused of promoting the “creative” uses of antibiotics such as animal feed to promote the bottom line.
The other issue with antibiotic feed is the factory farming model. You get sick animals with these models. Thus, the antibiotics were not just for the fattening up of the animal. This is a major problem that needs to be addressed if we are not going to be using antibiotics in the feed to counter the “externalities” of factory farming.
Tetracycline was prescribed for colds, acne, and everything else until it was no longer effective on what it was used to treat. There is a limit to drug usage.
Great to see a Darwinian metaphor: industry as an ecosystem. This leads to the insight that if you introduce something new like a rabbit or a regulation, you can’t predict the future. Instead you measure it and adapt.
Remember it’s not an accident that Paul Romer and John Cochrane are both undergraduate physics majors.
We only talk about the negatives of feeding cattle antibiotics; there is a substantial positive.
If use of feed additive antibiotics is banned, preventing exposure to infectious agents will be extremely difficult and will result in a slowing down of animal production. Post-outbreak treatment has had variable effectiveness, but would certainly be less effective than the present use of subtherapeutic levels of antibiotics. The control of infectious disease by immunological means would be an ideal way to safeguard against subclinical infection. However, thus far there has been limited success in protecting animals against bacterial pathogens that affect the intestinal and respiratory tracts.
Antibiotics have been effective in improving the rate and efficiency of gain in swine, cattle, and poultry. The responses in poultry and swine are generally greater in younger animals than in those reaching the end of the growing-finishing period. There is some evidence that the improved farrowing rate of swine is associated with the use of antibiotics. Responses in cattle have not been as great as those in swine and poultry. Improvement in rate of gain and feed efficiency in cattle has averaged about 5 percent. Evidence indicates that the effectiveness of antibiotics has not decreased over time.
Antibiotics in feed have also been used in animal production in Europe since 1953. The British have monitored microbial resistance to antibiotics and have conducted some basic and applied research concerning this aspect. Although the use of antibiotics in the United Kingdom has been restricted as a result of the Report of the Joint Committee on the Use of Antibiotics in Animal Husbandary and Veterinary Medicine (referred to in this report as the Swann Report; Swarm et al. 1969), the total tonnage used in animal production in 1975 was at an all-time high. Although the amount used in animals was only about 15 percent of the total usage, the ratio of the human population to the livestock population receiving antibiotics is substantially higher than in the United States.
Basically, I don’t trust competitive farmers to all lovingly keep manure-free farms so they can dispense with antibiotics. It’s a business, and usually to sell product you have to keep all costs to a bare minimum, so sanitation measures is going to be the first thing to go if your neighbor next door doesn’t do what you do. We can’t have farming police checking ever farm every week.