Meat producers are increasing the amount of antibiotics given to animals to keep up with the growing global meat demand.

The meat of antibiotic-fed animals, when consumed, develops antibiotic resistance in humans. It is also increasing the risk of creating antibiotic-resistant superbugs. Scientists suggest that the emergence of superbugs is taking humans a step closer to the time when common infections may also prove fatal. Researchers believe that superbugs have the potential to kill about 10 million people across the globe by 2050 if it is not checked.

A new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) points out that the demand for poultry, beef and pork is growing throughout the world, especially in developing and middle-income countries.

Animals are fed antibiotics so that they grow fast and fat. Animals are not always reared under clean and hygienic conditions. Feeding antibiotics to animals reduces the risk to animals and keeps them healthy even in overcrowded places.

While antibiotics may be given to animals in limited quantities, the study suggests that some farms give four times the amount of antibiotics to animals. The study also reveals that, in 2010, around 63,000 tons of antibiotics were given to livestock around the world. The growing demand of meat is expected to push the antibiotics consumption in livestock to 105,000 tons by 2030.

Thomas Van Boeckel, an epidemiologist at the Princeton University, who is also an author of the study, said that as people are getting rich, they consume more meat.

"Antibiotics help to provide a lot of meat for people who can afford it," reported Van Boeckel.

People and companies are also becoming aware of the threat posed by superbugs, and are taking measures to remove antibiotic meat products from their menu. McDonald's recently said that it will remove human antibiotics from its chicken supply. However, animal antibiotics will remain in its pork and beef products.

Chipotle Mexican Grill, a restaurant chain in the U.S., UK, Canada, France and Germany, which specializes in tacos and burritos, has also taken steps to ensure that antibiotic-free meat is served at its restaurants. The food chain also suffered a shortage of meat supplies, due to issues arising from its meat suppliers' usage of antibiotics.

While some people, companies and producers are concerned over the risk of antibiotics use in meat products, some remain least bothered about the growing problem. Some countries like China do not have any legislation over antibiotic-fed animals.

Experts suggest people should eat organic meat; however, the high cost of organic meat makes it difficult for many people to afford it.

Photo: Winfried Mosler | Flickr

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