Antibiotic Resistance: Which Came First, the Chicken or the Egg?

A couple months ago there was a report in the Lancet medical journal that looked at how conventional chicken farming is linked to antibiotic resistance in humans, and I have to say—it was pretty eye-opening.

Some of the details were really awful, like when I read about their living conditions. In case you don’t know, most conventionally-farmed chickens have an average life span of 40 days, their litter is never changed, and they literally live in their own poop.

As if that’s not bad enough, those conditions provide the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and parasites, so what’s the farmers’ answer? The chickens are given antibiotics throughout their life to avoid infection, which means when people like you and me eat their meat after it’s been packaged and sent to the grocery store, we’re actually ingesting those antibiotics.  Like I said—pretty eye-opening, right?

Antibiotic resistance happens when our bodies actually become resistant to the effects of a certain antibiotic (or antibiotics) over time because of misuse or overuse of those particular drugs. Sure, we have some amount of control over the antibiotics we take when it involves getting them from our doctor, but when it’s something like this, what happens then?

A specific type of antibiotic, cephalosporin, is of particular concern in chicken farming. Cephalosporin-resistant bacteria have become a common problem in hospital infections, and research shows they’re now becoming an even more widespread problem in the community. Not surprisingly, cephalosporin-resistant bacteria have been linked to… yup, you guessed it… the antibiotics used on chicken farms.   

I can’t even begin to stress how serious antibiotic resistance is, and how we really need to start paying attention to when and where our bodies might be exposed to things they shouldn’t. Antibiotics can save lives when they’re needed, but not if our bodies are left vulnerable to infection because of their improper use. If we keep going at this rate, folks who really need antibiotic treatment may eventually not be treatable at all.

So let’s make a conscious effort to begin by reading food labels and choosing chicken raised without antibiotics. It may be a small start, but it’s a good start, and it’s one that all of us can make.

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