Antibiotic Resistance Myth Busters

Often we are so overwhelmed with information being shared – through main stream news, social media, and conversations with friends or co-workers.  It can be challenging to decipher what is true versus a myth.  As a veterinarian and mother of two young children, I recognize the importance of getting the facts about the food we feed our families – so here are a couple myths that I wanted to debunk:myths

Myth #1: Antibiotic Residue and Antibiotic Resistance are the same thing

Antibiotic Residue = molecules that remain in the meat from animals that have been treated with antibiotics.  When an animal is treated with an antibiotic, the drug moves through the animals body to treat the infection for a period of time while it is being metabolized or broken down.  Eventually the antibiotic will leave the animals body, however, this can take a varying amount of time depending on the drug.  When drugs are approved for use in food-producing animals, the FDA establishes the amount of time from when an animal is treated until the antibiotic is out of the animal’s body or at a low enough level that it is safe for humans to consume.  This period of time is called the “withdrawal period”.  Farmers work with their veterinarian to make sure they follow the withdrawal period between when an animal is treated with an antibiotic and when they can be harvested.
Additionally, random testing and inspections occur when animals are harvested for food to ensure that the food supply is safe.

Antibiotic Resistance = when a bacteria develops the capacity to inactivate or exclude antibiotics or develop a mechanism to block the killing effects of antibiotics.  This process of antibiotics developing resistance occurs naturally regardless of how antibiotics are used – this is part of the “survival of the fittest” as bacteria evolve to survive.  However, we can impact antibiotic resistance.  Responsible antibiotic use by human health & veterinary health sectors is an important aspect of preserving antibiotics as an important tool to stay healthy.

Myth #2: Only if you use antibiotics incorrectly will it lead to antibiotic resistance

The first modern day “antibiotics” were developed in the 1920’s.  However, scientists recently discovered evidence of antibiotic resistance found in 1000-year-old mummies.  They found genetic material within bacteria in the mummy GI tract that has the potential to resist modern-day antibiotics.  So despite the fact that antibiotics were not even developed yet, we can infer from this example that in an effort to survive, bacteria will transform/modify to resist the effects of antibiotics that might kill them.

Myth #3: Meat is less safe today than it was in the past

When we talk about safe food, this can mean different criteria for different people.

To you this may mean it will not cause a food-borne illness; it may mean it does not contain harmful chemicals or have antibiotics in it; it may mean it is wholesome & nutritious… When I am feeding my family, I want all of these criteria to be met so here are some of the facts that I found regarding meat safety:

  • Bacteria counts are down compared to 10-15 years ago
  •  Food-borne illness counts are down according to CDC
  • Increased technology at time of harvest to eliminate or reduce the bacterial load from meat
  • According to USDA data in 2014, less than 1% of all carcasses tested & inspected had a violative residue (chemical or antibiotic)
  • Increased awareness about proper food preparation & handling of raw meat

We still need to work on making food safer – 1 out of 6 Americans get sick from a foodborne disease and 3,000 will die each year.  Precautionary measures such as washing hands while preparing & handling food or simply cooking all meat to proper temperatures will kill the bacteria and eliminate the risk of a significant percent of foodborne illnesses.  So this is a team effort that starts at the farm and needs to continue all the way to your kitchen & table.

For any questions or concerns regarding this topic please do not hesitate to contact our Pipestone team of veterinarians and swine specialist at 507-562-PIGS.

Carissa Odland, DVM

Pipestone Veterinary Services