Farm Animals Can Get Over-The-Counter Antibiotics That Humans Need A Prescription For

Image courtesy of (Adam Fagen)

If you get sick and need an antibiotic, you’ll also need a prescription because these medically important drugs shouldn’t be used willy-nilly. But if you’re a cow, pig, chicken, or fish, you can get many of those same antibiotics without any prescription whatsoever at any number of retail and online stores.

As we noted in last week’s report on the FDA’s latest data on antibiotics used on farm animals, 97% of these antimicrobials are purchased without a prescription or a veterinary feed directive. Nearly two-thirds (60%) of these over-the-counter antibiotics sales are for drugs deemed medically important to human beings.

From the latest FDA report on antibiotic use in farm animals [PDF].

From the latest FDA report on antibiotic use in farm animals [Full report: PDF].

But surely you can’t just go to the store or hop online and pick up a two-pound bag of chlortetracycline without any questions being asked? Oh wait — yes you can.

Writing for National Geographic, Maryn McKenna — author of Superbug — notes that she was able to do just that, purchasing a large bag of the drug with nothing more than a credit card.

In response to skeptics, some doctors posted the pics to Twitter showing that drugs like penicillin, cephaphirin, and others were readily available for purchase on the shelves of farm supply stores.

Likewise, you can easily buy a jar of cephalexin — a commonly used antibiotic to treat ear and urinary tract infections in humans — under the Fish Flex brand from Amazon and other retailers.

We certainly don’t recommend anyone buy these veterinary forms of the antibiotics, nor do we want to suggest that you should use antibiotics without first seeing a physician. Misuse of antibiotics can have dangerous results, as can using the wrong drug.

But if humans should take care to only use antibiotics under the guidance of a healthcare professional, shouldn’t the same be true for cows and pigs?

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