As the use of factory meat farms increases in China, scientists are concerned that the problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria could pose a worldwide health risk.
Over half the antibiotics in China are given to livestock, a recent study has shown.
The demand for pork has been rising in China, and half the world’s pigs are in China. Pig farmers routinely add antibiotics to their animals’ feed to promote growth and reduce disease risk, but they are not required to report the amount of antibiotics used, according to online media The World.
The World interviewed staff at a large commercial hog farm in the city of Jiaxing in Zhejiang Province, where the pigs were fed in a big enclosed building. The manager declined to be interviewed.
However, one employee agreed to talk even though she didn’t have permission. “It takes a few months here for the pigs to grow big enough for sale. The pigs are fed really good materials,” she said, according to The World.
The antibiotics may make the pigs grow faster, but overusing antibiotics can lead to the development of drug-resistant bacteria.
Scientists from China and the United States conducted a study last year on hog manure from commercial farms in China. As expected, they found large numbers of drug-resistant bacteria.
More surprisingly, they found that different drug-resistant genes could hop around in clusters from one type of bacteria to another, producing bacteria that were resistant to multiple drugs.
These hard-to-kill pathogens could spread to humans.
“The big problem is the resistance can be transferred to human beings and also could be transferred globally by food export or import,” Dr. Xiao Yonghong of the Antibacterial Resistance Investigation Unit of China’s Health Ministry said, according to The World.
China isn’t the only country with this problem. The online media Mother Jones reports that China is merely following in America’s footsteps, since half of China’s antibiotics use is for livestock, while the United States uses 77 percent for livestock.
It’s hard to compare it that way, though, because people in China use 10 times as many antibiotics per capita as people in the United States, Time reported according to Mother Jones.
“Chinese pork farming is changing rapidly,” Mother Jones states, citing a study by the Dutch bank Rabobank, showing that between 2001 and 2010, the number of hogs from factory farms increased while the number of hogs from small family farms dropped by half.