STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
NPR's Allison Aubrey reports.
ALLISON AUBREY: So why are farm-raised animals given so much medicine?
GAIL HANSEN: Animals are given antibiotics for a number of reasons, including to get them to grow faster.
AUBREY: To get them to grow faster, so it has nothing to do with fighting infection?
HANSEN: Right. These are given to perfectly healthy animals to get them to grow faster, to convert their food more efficiently so that they get to market faster.
AUBREY: Gail Hansen is a veterinarian and a public health expert. She works for the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming. She says in instances of bacterial infection, antibiotics are clearly effective for livestock and farm animals. But the current practice of routinely adding low doses of antibiotics to animal feed, she says, is creating a problem. The bacteria that cause disease are becoming resistant to antibiotics
HANSEN: When we give antibiotics to animals to get them to grow, we're giving them at very low doses, and that's how you set up bacteria becoming resistant to the antibiotic. There's not enough of the antibiotic to kill off the organisms, enough to prime the pump, so to speak, so the bacteria learns how to become resistant to the antibiotic that's being used.
AUBREY: And this could become a problem for us. Hansen says, the very strain of salmonella called Heidelberg, which has made people sick in this outbreak and led to the recall of ground turkey meat, is resistant to three different antibiotics.
HANSEN: One of them is ampicillin, one of them streptomycin and one is tetracycline. All of those are antibiotics that a physician would likely take off the shelf to treat for disease. None of those three will work.
AUBREY: And CSPI's Caroline Smith DeWaal says that's crazy. She says the agency needs to classify Heidelberg and three other antibiotic-resistant strains of salmonella as adulterants.
CAROLINE SMITH DEWAAL: This means that the industry and the government would engage in more testing and hopefully it would result in earlier recalls before there are outbreaks or certainly earlier in the outbreak.
AUBREY: But Sherrie Rosenblatt, who is vice president of the federation, says people should understand that antibiotic use is necessary.
SHERRIE ROSENBLATT: Antibiotics is a great way for the industry to ensure that the food supply is highest quality, most nutritious, safest and most affordable in the world.
AUBREY: Allison Aubrey, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.