A recent study by the University of Illinois has linked the routine use of tetracycline to the presence of antibiotic resistance genes in groundwater. The study determined that the genes “move” through different species of bacteria. The findings were among the first to track antibiotic resistance genes rather than the bacteria that host them.

The researchers found that these genes are transferred “like batons” from one bacterial species to another, a conclusion that has serious implications for antibiotics used to treat human disease. Tetracycline family antibiotics are given to pigs, typically as a feed additive to increase growth rate. But, as the research team concluded, tetracycline resistance genes could lead to resistance to antibiotics important to human medicine.

“When it comes to resistance, bacteria are promiscuous. They easily swap the genes that make them impervious to antibiotics, making the threat very real that eventually bugs causing infections in humans will be the ones resistant to treatment,” said David Wallinga, M.D., director of the Food and Health Program at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. “This study is just the latest of many that have shown that using antibiotics routinely in the feed for healthy livestock can ultimately lead to more dangerous bacterial infections in humans.”

Proposed federal legislation, The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, sponsored by Senate Health Committee Chairman Edward Kennedy (D-MA) would phase out the use of antibiotics that are important in human medicine as animal feed additives within two years. The American Medical Association, the Infectious Disease Society of America, and the American Academy of Pediatrics are among the more than 350 health, agriculture and other groups nationwide that have endorsed this bill. 

Source: Keep Antibiotics Working Coalition