CHICAGO (CBS) — Several doctors and consumer advocates in Chicago on Thursday warned there’s a much bigger threat to Americans’ health than Ebola: drug-resistant bacteria.

“We have to worry about Ebola, but there were 23,000 deaths due to antibiotic-resistant infections in the United States in the last year,” said Dr. Susan Boyle-Vavra, lab director for the University of Chicago’s MRSA Research Center.

WBBM Newsradio’s Regine Schlesinger reports Boyle-Vavra joined other doctors and officials with Consumers Union – the policy division of Consumer Reports – and the Illinois Public Interest Research Group to discuss their concern about the meat industry’s practice of using antibiotics on healthy animals.

Doctors and consumer groups said large livestock producers routinely administer antibiotics to healthy animals, which encourages the evolution of life-threatening antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

“There’s no excuse for this. They take antibiotics. They feed them at sub-inhibitory doses to the animals. This way they don’t have to feed them more food, which increases their profits,” Boyle-Vavra said.

Illinois PIRG said a new survey indicates 93 percent of doctors are worried about the meat industry’s excessive use of antibiotics.

“Eighty percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. each year are used in food animal production,” said Dr. Michael Hansen, senior staff scientist for Consumers Union

Illinois PIRG, Consumers Union, and many doctors and consumer groups are calling for the federal government to ban the use of antibiotics on disease-free animals.

Dr. Sameer Patel, an infectious disease specialist at Lurie Children’s Hospital, said the medical community also is working to scale back its own overuse of antibiotics.

Patel said, while antibiotics can destroy bacteria that would have killed a person who suffered a simple cut or came down with pneumonia a century ago, over-reliance on antibiotics has allowed some strains of bacteria to mutate and evolve to the point that most antibiotics are useless against them.