Last summer while reading my 1977 Rodale Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening I came across an interesting paragraph on how farmers were using antibiotics such as streptomycyn and penicillin to increase yields of their crops and prevent certain diseases. A few days later I came across a news article about use of antibiotics by organic farmers on apples and pears to protect them from blight. Lastly, I found on my news stream a recent article by medical professionals concerned about the amounts of antibiotics in our food supply and the cause for alarm over a superbug which would be resistant to antibiotics because of their overuse.
Would you like antibiotics with your apple?
Most antibiotics today are used in agriculture on animals but also on your pears and apples, potatoes, radishes and carrots. So what can we do to reduce our consumption of antibiotics along with our food?
There is much information in the news about beef lot run off and preventative use of antibiotics to control or prevent disease, and hormones to increase yields (meat and milk) in a shorter period but direct spraying of antibiotics on crops is not often in the media news.
80 percent of all antibiotics used in the United States are used in food animals (and the vast majority of this use is for animals that are not sick).
Antibiotics in fresh fruit
Why should this be important to me:
- The antibiotics “stay” in the produce (beef etc) injected into, or sprayed on vegetables and fruit,with residual amounts being tested for and found in grocery store shelves in processed meat and fresh produce
- If antiobiotic contaminated animal manure is used on a garden to improve soil, the residual antibiotics are absorbed by the plants which grow in the soil
- The doom and gloom outcome of this scenario is that more and more diseases are resistant to antibiotics and in time they will be powerless / useless to provide a cure for a “superbug”
“Ontario should ban the prophylactic or growth-promoting use of antibiotics, whether extra-label or indicated, in animal husbandry. This step is fundamental to preserving the effectiveness of antibiotics.”
Recommendation #5 on the Ontario Medical Association policy paper
- Antibiotics are mainly used in plant agriculture on apples, pears (for blight), peaches and potatoes
- What growth hormones and antibiotics are used in the products you buy at the store. Do not hesitate to ask your food suppliers at the local Farmers Markets what antibiotics, hormones or pesticides are used in or on their produce
- Streptomycin, gentamicin, Oxytetracycline, Oxolinic acid are the four main antibiotics used in plant agriculture and are “essential”, Oregon State University report.
Tests conducted by the FDA every year routinely show high levels of antibiotic resistant bacteria on retail meat. In 2010, almost 52 percent of chicken breasts tested were contaminated with antibiotic-resistant E. coli.
What can I do :
- Buy organic, even though reports confirm antibiotics are permitted to control blight for example
- Buy (animal) produce which is raised (feed and water) antibiotic free
- Buy locally produced food (especially seafood and pork) as much as possible as only a small percentage of imported produce is checked by authorities for antibiotics
- Reduce the amount of meat in your diet
- Ask at your organic fruit stall seller at the Farmers Market, or where you shop, if antibiotics are sprayed on fruit for disease or growth
- Wash your hands often to prevent transfer of disease – drug resistant bacteria can spread from animals to humans through contact, food and drinking water
- Always wash your food before consumption including organic produce
- Control and avoid overuse of personal antibiotics
- Maintain your health as a preventative to stay out of hospitals. Health care death and infections in US hospitals report
- Buy fresh food, including organic, grown in Canada and not imported as many overseas countries may lack regulation control of antibiotics, hormones and pesticides in agriculture
- Grow a garden or plant a container of vegetables or a fruit tree especially apples, peppers, blueberries, celery, cucumbers, grapes, lettuce, potatoes, spinach, stone fruit, strawberries and greens as these are all on a shoppers “Dirty Dozen” list for highest pesticides (including oxytetracycline & streptomycin) in produce and recommend to buy organic.
When searching the USDA database for agricultural use of oxytetracycline and streptomycin (listed as pesticides) the following usage resulted : apple (both), celery, nectarine, peach and potato. Interestingly the USA usage for oxytetracycline on apples is 0.35 ppm while Canada and New Zealand is 0.01 ppm for apples. There is a massive amount of information on this database. Link to this database USDA (Pesticide MRL database)
Following the above guidelines can help reduce your family’s amount of exposure to antibiotics (and pesticides) in the food they eat.
“Overuse of antibiotics in animals is causing more strains of drug-resistant bacteria, which is affecting the treatment of various life-threatening diseases in humans. The Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences has estimated that the annual cost of treating antibiotic-resistant infections in the U.S. is $30 billion;”
State Environmental Resource Centre “Antibiotics in Agriculture”
“… factors that enhance spread of carbapenemase producers in the community is difﬁcult because these factors are multiple and are associated with lack of hygiene, overuse and over-the-counter use of antibacterial drugs, and increased worldwide travel.”
from report Global Spread of Carbapenemase-producing Enterobacteriaceae
by Patrice Nordmann, Thierry Naas & Laurent Poirel
Links & References
- When antibiotics stop working Report from Ontario Medical Association
- “… antibiotics used for plant disease control is less than 0.1% of total antibiotic use in the US”
- Almost 30 million pounds of antibiotics was used in the meat and poultry industry in the United States in 2011
- “Crops absorb livestock antibiotics … and likely to increase” Environmental Health News
- Root vegetables have higher concentrations of antibiotics
- History of antibiotic use in agriculture and amounts used (USDA)
- The Animal Feed Act and statistics on annual food related deaths (USA)
- Are you taking antibiotics without knowing it – Consumer Health Information
- Quotes are from this article http://www.nrdc.org/food/saving-antibiotics.asp
- Food crops absorb antibiotics from animal excrement
- Antibiotic streptomycin used in agriculture
- Pesticides : CBC article on pesticide residuals on organic produce 4/5 of which are imported
- Justice Law website with grades and standards for importing fruit and vegetables
- Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening Rodale 1977
Other related CAP articles
- Health hazards in our food
- What does “organic” mean today in our food industry in British Columbia
- Why you should consider buying organic raised chicken
- Massive beef recall in Canada due to ecoli poisoning
- Food recalls due to E.coli
- Check out the following CAP article for links to growing fruits and vegetables in your home garden