6 Things to Know About Antibiotics in Agriculture

Agricultural practices have been placed under increasing scrutiny, and with good reason. People are growing more aware of what they eat and how their food is made, as well as the environmental impact of food production. This is quite noticeable when it comes to the use of antibiotics, and there are attempts as of late to rein in its use.


The first point to clarify is how frequently antibiotics are used in modern agriculture. It is more than we realize. Data from 2016 shows that during the previous year, American farmers used 8.36 million kg of medical antibiotics, and 5.62 million kg that were not medically crucial. Obviously, there is room to cut here, since half of the total amount used is not necessary to keep animals healthy.

Types of Antibiotics Used

Going into detail here can be difficult, as sometimes even experts struggle to follow along. Simply put, there are three main types of antibiotics approved by the FDA for agricultural use:

-Antibiotics for animals that are already ill.
-Antibiotics used to control the spread of disease when some but not all animals are ill.
-Prevention for animals that are at risk of getting sick.

There are additional, more complex guidelines set up by HMRC that regulate the use of antibiotics for non-medical purposes, such as facilitating growth and development.

From Animals To Humans

The main concern with the overuse of antibiotics is how it will affect humans who work in the field. Specifically, there is concern that bacteria attacking animals will move from them to people. At this point, data shows this to happen only rarely. This means that the use of antibiotics on livestock does not play a significant role in regards to the people who work with them.

Resistance In Animals And Humans

Overuse of antibiotics leads to the creation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. This is common, and happens in regards to bacteria that attacks humans as well as animals. It is a growing concern, as more antibiotics are being used today than ever before. Research shows that the use of antibiotics in farming isn’t affecting resistance as much as we feared, however. This effect appears to come more from other venues, such as adding antibiotics to soap and other household products.


These issues affect the world at large, since everyone needs food and the food industry is truly global. Therefore, its issues require global political solutions. This is achieved partly through guidelines set by the World Health Organization. The guidelines are as follows:

-An overall reduction in the use of antibiotics is recommended.
-Animal antibiotics made for health reasons should not be used for non-medical purposes.
-Diseases not yet clinically diagnosed should not be treated with antibiotics.

Governments are encouraged to make their own rules within this set of guidelines.

Public Opinion

In the end, there is the issue of public opinion. The issues are complex, and arguments can be made both for and against the use of antibiotics. Public opinion is moving however, towards lowering their usage. Some believe antibiotics should never be used at all. They are a small but vocal minority which appears to be on the upswing in terms of public opinion.


Antibiotics are a big part of modern livestock operations, used both for medical purposes and simply to make cattle grow bigger, faster. There are guidelines set in place by the WHO to regulate antibiotic use. It is important to understand the effects of these antibiotics, which overall are not as scary as they may initially appear.


Date:Nov 2, 2019

Category:Ethics, Livestock

Tags:animals, meat

Join the LIST