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Risks of Antibiotics

Humans have an extremely low risk of experiencing antibiotic resistance from food

While it is possible that antibiotic resistant bacteria can transfer from animals to humans, the chances are extremely small that a person would contract an illness that cannot be treated with an antibiotic as a result of that person consuming food from animals treated with that antibiotic.

This is because in order for a person to contract an illness that could not be treated with an antibiotic, EACH of the events described in this chart would have to occur – and there are programs and interventions designed to kill or eliminate bacteria at many of those steps. Throughout food production and processing systems, there are strict standards that act as safeguards to human health in that they greatly reduce the presence of all bacteria, whether resistant or not. Furthermore, government data from monitoring of foodborne bacteria in meat and poultry indicates that the prevalence of resistance is very low with those antibiotics of critical importance in human medicine.

The FDA, animal medicine companies, and academic researchers have conducted several quantitative risk assessments on animal antibiotics, and these studies have consistently found very low risk to human health. These results demonstrate that the interventions used to keep bacteria from transferring from animals to humans are effective. They have also shown that not using antibiotics to fight diseases in animals could result in an increase in foodborne illness.

To put into perspective the risk of experiencing antibiotic resistance due to consuming food that contains antibiotics, the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis calculated the following to compare the risk of acquiring a resistant bacterial infection compared to other risks: