Misuse Of Antibiotics In Agriculture The Cause Of Antibiotic Resistance

THERE is an increase in the world population as has been noted over the years and this demands an increase in production to meet the needs of people. Globally, farmers are becoming industrialized in order to meet consumer demand. In order to meet the consumer demand for meat from poultry and livestock, farmers are now excessively using antibiotics to prevent diseases and thereby increase production. Imprudent use of antibiotics in the animal sector has an impact on life-saving antibiotics which are becoming ineffective for treating bacterial infections.

By Paradzai lnnocent Njazi

Antibiotic resistance is when bacteria change over time and cease to respond to antibiotics designed to kill them. lf the antibiotics cease to work, it means that those infections that were treatable will cause mortality. Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections like pneumonia, tuberculosis, meningitis, and gonorrhoea. However, with resistance now increasing, it is now becoming harder to treat diseases. In 2019, antibiotic resistance killed 1.27 million people, surpassing AIDS and malaria deaths.

The key reasons contributing to resistance are misuse and overuse of antibiotics in the human health and agriculture sectors. The same antibiotics that are used for humans in clinical practice are used for animals. The use of antibiotics is described as the main contributor to the clinical problem of drug resistance in human medicine. In this article, my focus is on the use of antibiotics in agriculture.

Antibiotics are used on a larger scale in animals. Some of this use is prudent, whilst some is improper. First, antibiotics are used to prevent, treat, and control bacterial infections in livestock. Just like humans, animals can contract infections such as pneumonia. Antibiotics are also used as growth promoters, improving feed utilization. However, this contributes to a reservoir of drug-resistant bacteria. Treating animals with antibiotics is necessary for certain diseases for survival, welfare, and productivity reasons. However, there must be rational use, that is, using antibiotics appropriately by choosing the right drug at the right dose and duration.

All animals have bacteria in their intestines. Some bacteria become resistant to antibiotics, and they survive and multiply. Exposing bacteria to antibiotic concentration will cause the bacteria to acquire resistance. Animals will then possess resistant bacterial strains. Drug-resistant stains are passed on to humans in many ways, but mostly through the food chain. Through the consumption of beef, chicken, pork, etc humans then get antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

A study done in Kenya which sampled 187 pork samples and 206 chicken samples found that 60% of the meat had bacteria strains that are resistant to antibiotics. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria can also be transferred to the environment through animal faeces. People are then exposed to these bacteria as they use manure as fertilizer, spreading bacteria to crops.


Some countries, like Sweden, have taken a major step to fight this global health threat by banning the use of antibiotics in animals as growth promoters. Other countries must adopt this because it is estimated that two-thirds of antibiotics are used in agriculture. Since antibiotics are given as prophylaxis, if farmers improve hygiene and practice good animal husbandry, this will reduce the use of antibiotics to prevent infections. Vaccinating animals is a very effective way to prevent animals from being infected and thereby reduce the use of antibiotics.

Making better use of existing vaccines and developing new vaccines are important ways to tackle antibiotic resistance and reduce preventable illness and deaths. Researchers are currently working on using bacteriophages as an alternative. Bacteriophages are viruses that kill bacteria. They infect bacterial cells with high specificity. Bacteriophages are viruses that infect bacteria and use them to produce more phages that continue to attack bacteria. Bacteriphage replicate quickly, and they have the capacity to kill a specific bacteria within an organism of bacteria.

Many countries have already taken action to reduce the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals. For example, since 2006, the European Union has banned the use of antibiotics for growth promotion. Consumers are also driving the demand for meat raised without the routine use of antibiotics, with some major food chains adopting “antibiotic-free” policies for their meat supplies.

There must  be the introduction of campaigns and training sessions to educate farmers on the proper use of antibiotics. Educating alone is not the ultimate solution. They may possess knowledge and continue with their practices. New practices cannot be easily adopted; there must be intervention that targets behavioral change for farmers. One of the factors that drives farmer behavior and attitudes towards antibiotics is the veterinary-farmer relationship. Farmers should consider veterinarians as their primary source of information on health practices. The adoption of proper use of antibiotic principles requires a behavioral change in veterinarians and farmers.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Paradzai lnnocent Njazi Bachelor Of Science ln Nursing Science Student 
at University Of Zimbabwe , Antibiotic Resistance Advocate (ReAct Africa)




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