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AGRICULTURE REPORT - November 6, 2001: Antibiotics in Animals - 2001-11-05

This is the VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT.

Recent studies show bacteria that are resistant to antibiotic drugs are common in meat in the United States. The bacteria can survive in the human body. Some bacteria also may cause drug-resistant infections in people.

For years, American farmers have given antibiotics to the animals they raise for food. The drugs are used to prevent infections and increase the size of the animals.

The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that more than nine-million kilograms of antibiotics are given to animals each year. The group says less than ten percent of that total are used to treat active infections.

The Animal Health Institute represents companies that make drugs for animals. The group says antibiotics help keep animals healthy.

However, bacteria living in the animals can become resistant to antibiotics. Scientists suspect that people may be getting antibiotic-resistant bacteria from the food they eat.

In Nineteen-Ninety-Eight, the European Union barred the use of antibiotics in farm animals. Some groups support the idea of a similar ban in the United States.

The New England Journal of Medicine published two studies about the issue last month.

Researchers at the University of Maryland and the United States Food and Drug Administration carried out one study. They tested meat for the presence of salmonella bacteria, a leading cause of food poisoning. They tested two-hundred small amounts of chicken, turkey, beef, and pork from three stores in the Washington, D-C area. Twenty percent of the products tested had salmonella.

Eighty-four percent of the salmonella were resistant to at least one antibiotic. Fifty-three percent were resistant to three or more antibiotics.

Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention carried out the other study. They tested more than four-hundred chickens from twenty-six stores in four states. The researchers found that more than half of the chickens contained a drug-resistant bacterium.

The New England Journal of Medicine also published a commentary by an expert on infectious diseases. He called for banning the use of antibiotics in animals except to treat infections.

This VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT was written by George Grow.