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How Human Antibiotics Get Into Animal Feed

What the animals we eat are really being fed.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Ever stop to wonder what the animal you're eating for dinner had for its last meal? As part of its recently launched food investigative series, CNN explores what farmers are feeding the millions of pigs, chickens, and cows that Americans eat each year. While the actual formula of the feed mix is kept secret — oftentimes unknown even to the farmer — the base for all of the feeds is (what else?) corn.

There are about a dozen different ingredients found in animal feed, including chicken feces, but for some the most disturbing thing about the feed is the ingredients that are used to bulk up the animals more quickly. These growth-promoting ingredients are known as renderings and include everything from pig fat to meal made from poultry feathers. Some feeds also have growth hormones mixed in to get the livestock to market weight in a shorter amount of time.

While chicken feces certainly sounds less-than-appetizing, the most questionable ingredients found in the feed are antibiotics, the same kind used to treat illness in humans. Over 70 percent of the antibiotics currently sold in the U.S. are used in animal feed. One of the main problems cited with using human antibiotics in animal feed is that bacteria evolve to become resistant to these drugs, creating "superbugs." Health industry experts worry that if we continue to use antibiotics in this way, this problem will only worsen.

Under pressure from environmental groups, many in the food industry are making efforts to cut back their usage of such antibiotics. Last March, McDonald's, one of the country's largest purchasers of poultry, announced it would stop serving chicken raised with human antibiotics. In October, Subway announced it plans on eliminating all antibiotics from its meat supply as well. Papa John's followed suit, announcing in December that their chicken would also soon be antibiotic-free. And restaurants aren't the only ones making the change: Last April Tyson Foods, the second largest processor of chicken, vowed to stop raising its chicken with human antibiotics.

Watch the CNN video, below:

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