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Blog: Antibiotics in Animal Feed & the Rise of the Superbug; 1 Reason Why I was Vegetarian!

Welcome back to our ongoing ‘You Matter To Us’ blog series…

This month Thomson & Bancks’ Head of Medical Negligence, Lucy Sherry investigates antibiotic laced animal feed and the rise of the superbug, detailing the transfer of resistant bacteria between animals, how humans can be affected and how you can stop the problem.

The food-producing animal and poultry industries have undergone a dramatic change that began around 1950. Farming became extremely intensive: units increased in animal concentration, both physically and numerically. The beneficial responses of feed-additive antibiotics are improved growth and feed.

It is estimated that 40% of the antibiotics produced today are used for animal feed!

Regrettably, after animals have been fed antibiotics over a period of time, they retain the strains of bacteria which are resistant to antibiotics. The resistant bacteria are transmitted to the other animals, thus forming a colonisation of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Transfer of the bacteria from animal to human is possible through many practices, i.e. in farms and slaughterhouses. Humans clean up the animal faeces containing bacteria, in slaughterhouses, the intestine containing these strains are severed. Resistant bacteria could get onto the workers’ bodies and hands and is easily ingested.

Also, humans can get infected by eating meat from animals with resistant bacteria!

Even though cooking reduces the survival of the bacteria, some may still survive and infect the human, e.g. it has been known for people to develop multi-drug resistant Salmonella food poisoning after eating beef from cows fed with antibiotics.

After initial transmission and infection to humans, the transmission to others can occur through numerous actions, including physical contact and via bodily fluids. An infected individual may also be admitted to a hospital for treatment of an infection caused by the resistant bacteria but antibiotic treatment may not work in drug resistant infections!

Resistant bacteria are transmitted to other patients via the hospital environment and workers. Colonisation in other patients with other resistant bacteria can produce bacteria with multi-drug resistance. Once the patients recover, they are discharged into the community and these patients could potentially infect several community members. Multiple infection could potentially produce a superbug which is resistant to many drugs due to resistance sharing between bacteria. This is what happened with both MRSA and Clostridium Difficile (C.Diff).

Antibiotic resistant superbugs are currently killing 5,000 people every year in the UK!

You can make a difference; email supermarkets to stop using suppliers who use antibiotic-laced animal feed and do not ask for antibiotic treatment from the NHS, wherever possible. However, always finish a course of antibiotics even when you are feeling well so as to ensure the bug is finished off completely and not ready to fight back stronger!

If not, the rise in superbugs is due to be the No.1 threat to humans by 2050!

Why not vote with your feet and only buy organic meat like I do now after 25 years of previously abstaining from eating supermarket meat as a reaction against intensive farming methods? Back then you would never see ‘free range’ or ‘organic’ labels and so I felt as though I had no other choice, but I am certainly healthier for it and now enjoy the much tastier rewards of organic free range meat.

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Lucy Sherry, Solicitor-Advocate; Head of Medical Negligence specialises in medical negligence litigation, previously representing the NHS Litigation Authority and one of the GP Unions. Lucy now works with injured individuals and bereaved families to achieve compensation for adverse outcomes. Lucy has a passion for learning and sharing her knowledge, regularly delivering medico-legal training to lawyers, attending many hours of medical lectures each year to keep abreast of changes in treatments, and gaining an insight into new health and medical findings to share with Thomson & Bancks’ clients and visitors to this blog.

See Lucy Sherry’s full profile

Visit our Medical Negligence page

Catch up with Lucy Sherry’s previous blog posts

Blog: Alcohol; a harmless social escape or a dangerous poison?
Blog: Our annual Christmas binge & January famine!
Blog: Battling Stress at Work
Blog: The Taboos About Men’s Mental Health

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