Volume 92, Issue 34

Wednesday, November 4, 1998

millions of bad feelings


Debate rages over antibiotic use

By Clare Elias
Gazette Staff

Extra care should still be taken when cooking chicken and beef, as concern about the use of antibiotics in livestock is being waged among the health and agriculture industries.

A recent report in the Canadian Medical Journal regarding excessive levels in antibiotics fed to livestock, has sparked interest among health care and pharmaceutical workers.

However, according to Ted Medzon, associate professor of microbiology and immunology at Western, the concern, while valid, is not a new one. Medzon said what needs to be examined is the purpose of using antibiotics.

"There is no solid scientific evidence that using antibiotics improves growth in livestock. If you look at the data, nobody is sure if it fattens up the animals. The use of these agents is widespread, but you have to look back about 40 years to consumers who still ate before farmers began using antibiotics to have better cattle," Medzon said.

These antibiotics are being used to increase the animal's size, while simultaneously increasing profits for farmers and manufacturers. This quest creates serious threats to the consumers, Medzon added.

"Antibiotics are remaining in residual forms either in the animal or within the animal's excretion. This produces the second phase of the problem with humans – when we are exposed to the bacteria resistant to the antibiotics and this causes salmonella and other diseases," Medzon explained.

According to the Canadian Animal Health Institute, bacteria is a naturally occurring process and eliminating antibiotics in livestock will not eliminate the problem at hand. Sandra Beirns, communication manager of the institute, said human safety is paramount, but felt the use of antibiotics is needed and beneficial to society.

"Agriculture and society benefit from antibiotic use in abundance. It produces food more efficiently and makes animals healthier," Beirns said.

However, George Khachatouris, a microbiologist at the University of Saskatchewan's College of Agriculture, said the root of the problem lies with antibiotics. They are passed down the ecosystem chain through animals, he said.

"In humans, there is an excess amount of prescribed antibiotics for prophylactic uses. But why is that 90 per cent of antibiotic use ends up in agriculture producers?" he questioned.

Khachatouris' uneasiness over the uses of antibiotics stretches to the financial side as well. "Money [in the health care industry] could be spent in many different ways, such as newer antibiotics. But unless we correct the way we use them, then we can't do anything in the short term. Antibiotics are used for infections, but now we've gone the other way and used them to fatten up animals."

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Copyright The Gazette 1998