"This paper puts numbers on what we've talked about in general," added Levy, also a professor of molecular biology, microbiology and medicine. "The extent of the contamination of soils is what we expected, but we didn't have the data. So, I think this is a marvelous contribution."
China only weakly regulates the use of antibiotics in animals, and the practice occurs in many countries around the world at varying levels -- except Europe, where it is banned. Last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced new rules requiring farmers and ranchers to obtain a prescription from a veterinarian before using antibiotics in animals.
Study author Tiedje, also a professor of microbiology and molecular genetics and plant, soil and microbial sciences, said the Chinese are worried about this health threat for their own citizens' safety, which is why the study was done. He said he hopes more countries will opt to ban antibiotic use on commercial animal farms, which would create a "level playing field" although likely spurring an increase in meat prices.
"Papers like this are really filling in the data needed to say, look, it's time to take stock of this," Levy said. "I find it an embarrassment that we're still doing this practice. This paper is timely -- now maybe something will happen."
The American College of Physicians has more information about antibiotic resistance.
SOURCES: James Tiedje, Ph.D., professor, microbiology and molecular genetics, and plant, soil and microbial sciences, and director, Center for Microbial Ecology, Michigan State University, East Lansing; Stuart Levy, M.D.,
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