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To use Antibiotics as growth promoters in Livestock production or Not? The debate rages on

11 February 2016

Can the gains made globally by use antibiotic in reduction of mortality rate caused by bacterial infections in both man and animals since their accidental discovery be watered down by the negative impact of use of antibiotics as growth promoters on the same health of human being and animals they serve to preserve? This is the question that has sparked renewed debate in the global arena. The debate is indeed warranted as recent studies show that misuse of antibacterial drugs has resulted in development of bacterial resistance over time. These studies revealed that farmers are the biggest culprits in use of antibiotics in livestock production directly or indirectly through a veterinary practitioners. Antibiotics have been found to boost poultry, beef cattle and pig production as they accelerate growth rate and increase muscle weight.  However, withdrawal period within which the antibiotics undergo total disintegration and excretion from the animal’s biological system before the animal or its products can be consumed is supposed to be observed. Unfortunately, due the ever increasing demand for livestock products, farmers do not observe the withdraw period before off-loading their products to the market thereby predisposing consumers of animal products to health complications related to mis-use of antibiotics.  

Although the subject is not short of controversy the world over, the problem is premised on the fact that the same antibiotics used in man are used to control the same strain of bacteria in animals that kill “friendly bacteria” in humans thereby interfering with the floral balance in their bodies with ensuing adverse health effects. Compounding the situation is also that prolonged use of antibiotics is said to cause bacteria to change their genetic composition resulting to resistance to antibiotics that would ordinary work. Resistant strains can also be spread through water, soil or meat into human body system thereby predisposing even farm workers and farmers indirectly to infections.

This debate has attracted the attention of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) which has raised a red flag on adulteration of antimicrobials and their widespread use by untrained personnel. As a result there is need for a harmonized framework worldwide for surveillance of antibiotics use in animals to safeguard the health of the people. In the same light, animal welfare activists are decrying use of antibiotics as growth promoters where animals are kept in hygienically neglected and crowded conditions without due regard to biosecurity. Calls to halt use of antibiotics as growth promoters in livestock production for public health safety are boosted by a study conducted in Denmark that found no economic losses for not using growth promoters after the country banned their use in poultry and pig production in 1999.



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