The bad news about antibiotic resistance keeps coming.

In May, a report commissioned by UK Prime Minister David Cameron pointed out that 700,000 people each year die from bacterial infections that do not respond to antibiotics. Then, doctors announced that a Pennsylvania woman was the first in the U.S. to be diagnosed with an infection caused by bacteria that are resistant to an antibiotic of last resort called colistin.

Now, a new National Academy of Medicine (NAM) paper by six experts outlines the evidence for a link between antibiotic use in food animals and antibiotic resistance in people. The purpose of the paper is to give policymakers an overview of the issue, so they have information about what’s at stake.

But there’s a lot the average person can learn from it too. 

“This paper is extremely hard hitting,” says Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives at Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. “It establishes beyond any reasonable doubt that loss of effectiveness of antibiotics is a crisis, there is a connection between antibiotic use in animals and resistant infections in people, and drastically reducing use in animals is essential to addressing the problem.”

Antibiotics have a place in agriculture: to treat sick animals. But these drugs are routinely given to food animals to help them grow faster and prevent disease. This misuse and overuse has greatly contributed to bacteria that cause illness in people becoming resistant to antibiotics.

The NAM paper cites a review of studies conducted by other researchers that found of 192 studies on antibiotic use in agriculture and human disease, 59 percent concluded that there was a strong link, while only 8 percent argued that there was no link. The majority of the studies that found no connection were by authors affiliated with government or industry, while the ones that showed a link were published by university-based researchers. 

“The complete failure of our society to address this concern [antibiotic use in animals] in the United States is profoundly disappointing and alarming to providers who increasingly struggle to care for patients infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria,” the paper’s authors say.

As we’ve reported, many restaurant chains and meat and poultry producers either sell meat raised without antibiotics or have announced plans to do so. But the NAM paper notes that a “staggering load” [of antibiotics are used in animals; in 2014 17,000 tons were sold for use in livestock, which is four times the amount sold for use in people. According to the authors of the paper, people are “using antibiotics injudiciously to mask inferior management practices for perceived gain in short-term profits, contributing to the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria to other people in society.”

There’s a simple way consumers can help fight antibiotic use in agriculture: Look for meat and poultry that are labeled raised without antibiotics or organic (organic standards prohibit antibiotic use) and support restaurants that have “no-antibiotic” policies. 

Read our special report on America's antibiotic crisis, our research on ground beef safety, and our Antibiotic Resistance Guide. And for more information on food safety, consult our Food & Drink Guide.