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Agriculture’s Bad Medicine

Around the world, antibiotics are being misused in livestock production, which is leading to an uptick in antibiotic resistance in humans. To stem the global threat, the world needs a new multilateral treaty that incentivizes farmers to scale back their prophylactic use of antimicrobial drugs.

SAN DIEGO – Most of us are oblivious to the threats caused by our actions when those threats are invisible. Our use of antibiotics is a case in point. When used judiciously, antibiotics save lives and prevent the transmission of deadly diseases. But the therapeutic power of antibiotics is being squandered by their imprudent use in agriculture.

Today, more than half of the antibiotics administered around the world are used in the production of food. Farmers use antimicrobials to treat infections in their livestock. The problem is that they commonly misuse antibiotics either to compensate for poor agricultural practices – such as overcrowding on factory farms, which encourages the spread of disease – or to accelerate growth and reduce production costs.

These practices may appear harmless in isolation, but their aggregate effect is dangerous. As antibiotics enter the environment through the food people eat or the waste animals produce, antimicrobial resistance intensifies. And this affects human health in troubling ways.

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