A recent survey reveals that consumers are confused about the causes of antibiotic resistance and the use of antibiotics in livestock and poultry production. The survey was conducted online in March among more than 2,100 U.S. adults by Harris Poll for the American Meat Institute (AMI).

When asked what the greatest contributing factor to human antibiotic resistance was, only 41 percent correctly answered “health professionals over-prescribing to people.” Eighteen percent thought use of antibiotics in livestock production was the number one contributing factor according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Seven percent thought the CDC found antimicrobial hand sanitizers to be the biggest factor; five percent thought the answer was drinking water and 28 percent said they were unsure.

During a September 2013 press conference to release a report on antibiotics, CDC Director Thomas Frieden, MD, said, “Right now, the most acute problem is in hospitals. And the most resistant organisms in hospitals are emerging in those settings because of poor antimicrobial stewardship among humans.”  In fact, he said that half of all antibiotic prescriptions given to humans are unnecessary.

CDC also said that it is important to use good stewardship in administering antibiotics during livestock and poultry production and that animal antibiotic use for growth promotion should be phased out, an effort that is already under way at the request of the Food and Drug Administration and a move that the American Meat Institute supports.

The survey also reflected confusion around the issue of antibiotic residues. Thirty-nine percent think that unsafe levels of antibiotics are commonly present in the meat and poultry products found at the grocery store, though government data show that violative antibiotic residues in meat and poultry are virtually non-existent.  In 2011, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service screened meat and poultry for 128 chemicals, and 99 percent of the tested carcasses were free of all of them.

To help counter the confusion, AMI has released a new, referenced and reviewed brochure called “Antibiotics in Livestock & Poultry Production: Sort Fact from Fiction.”  The brochure may be downloaded from the AMI website.  AMI also released a new “Media MythCrusher” to help the media avoid some of the most common errors in reporting about the antibiotic issue.