Skip to comments.Finally, a smoking gun connecting livestock antibiotics and superbugs
Posted on 02/25/2012 9:48:16 AM PST by JerseyHighlander
How does the livestock industry talk about antibiotics? Well, it depends on whos doing the talking, but they all say some version of the same thing. Take the National Cattlemens Beef Association; they say there is no conclusive scientific evidence indicating the judicious use of antibiotics in cattle herds leads to antimicrobial resistance in humans [MRSA].
Or Ron Phillips of the Animal Health Institute (a drug-industry front group). In an interview on Grist last year, he said that before you can draw any conclusions:
You have to look at specific bug/drug combinations and figure out what are the potential pathways for antibiotic-resistant material to transfer from animals to humans. Studies have been done, and have come to the conclusion that there is a vanishingly small level of risk.
The message is clear. Until scientists trace a particular bug from animals to humans and show precisely how it achieved resistance and moved from farm to consumer, theres no smoking gun. Thus industry leaders heads can remain firmly buried in the sand.
Ladies and gentlemen, we now have a smoking gun! NPR reported on it first; heres their take:
A study in the journal mBio, published by the American Society for Microbiology, shows how an antibiotic-susceptible staph germ passed from humans into pigs, where it became resistant to the antibiotics tetracycline and methicillin. And then the antibiotic-resistant staph learned to jump back into humans.
Its like watching the birth of a superbug, says Lance Price of the Translational Genomics Research Institute, or TGen, in Flagstaff, Ariz.
The superbug at issue is a strain known as pig MRSA, or ST398. Its the bug I discussed with WIRED writer and Scientific American editor Maryn McKenna recently, and the same one scientists found on retail meat in another study.
The mBio study authors found that ST398 started as a not-quite-resistant strain of staph in humans, jumped to pigs, where it acquired resistance to antibiotics, jumped back to the humans who lived near the pigs, caused disease, and then, like many rural residents before it, left the farm to find its fortune in the big city.
McKenna on her Superbug blog on WIRED warns those who might consider all this no big deal and sums up the significance of the new studys findings:
The important development in the story of ST398 is its move back off the farm into humans, causing first asymptomatic carriage in that original family, and then illnesses in other Dutch residents, and then outbreaks in healthcare settings, and then movement across oceans, and then appearance in retail meat, and then infections in people who had no connection whatsoever to farming all from an organism with a distinctive agricultural signature.
This pathway is exactly the one described by critics of the overuse of antibiotics by industrial agriculture. Big Ags response to date has been to say, Prove it!
Scientists now have. So what happens next? Well, dont expect Big Ag to capitulate. In fact, when I spoke with Paul Sundberg, the vice president of science and technology for the National Pork Board, he disputed Maryns assessment of this study.
While stressing he had not yet fully reviewed the paper, Sundberg called it an interesting finding with no human health implications. He believes the study simply used advanced techniques to confirm what we already know that staph moves from people to animals. He also downplayed the overall threat from pig MRSA generally, putting it behind hospital- and community-acquired infections as a cause for concern.
To Sundberg, antibiotic resistance is a natural process that is a consequence of using antibiotics period. In other words, a cost of doing business.
Given the influence groups like Sundbergs wield at USDA and FDA, dont expect regulators to do anything either. The FDA just announced that it will trust companies to voluntarily control agricultural antibiotics, and this study is unlikely to change their minds.
Theres a bill in Congress that would provide some regulation its the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act of 2011 (PAMTA) authored by Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), Congress only microbiologist. We can only hope that after they see this science, theyll finally pass it.
Of course, the House is currently controlled by Republicans, who seem at the moment to be far more interested in expanding the governments access to womens reproductive parts than, well, most everything else. So until their priorities change, or the legislators themselves are voted out, we may just have to learn to love our new born-on-the-factory-farm, incurable superbugs.
There is a bacterial plague coming no matter what we do. Either superbugs from cattle, cheap sewerage seafood from Asia, or turd world immigrants. Antibiotics are over the counter in some countries, and they take them for even a hint of a virus, that they are ineffectual against. Aerosolized poop near cattle, chicken, and pig processing stations has got to be the worst though....yuck.
If this is a problem, it is not the problem of cattle producers, but all of the government regulations surrounding them. All of the required vaccinations are regulated.
So, let me get this straight. The coming zombie apocalypse will start with farm animals dying and coming back to life as the undead. Hmmm! wonder what a zombie steer tastes like cooked over charcoal.
Post to me or FReep mail to be on/off the Bring Out Your Dead ping list.
Pings may also include emerging diseases...
YES, really good for a laugh. Since pigs have been used for test animals for years, LOL, wonder where those heart pig valves come from.
I hope you never use a public restroom, speaking of “aerosolized poop.”
All odor is particulate, remember that.
Odor is particulate as are the germs and bacteria that are aerosolized with the poop. Most restrooms can’t be smelled 5 or 10 miles away...unless I’ve had some habenero sauce on eggs.....
If the public were as alarmed by this as they can tend to be about radiation, a lot of the bizarre and stupid misuse and overuse of antibiotics would not have occurred, because the sickness that compelled the ill advised treatment would never have been prescribed.
Agricultural overuse of antibiotics is another issue, but the potentially dire aftereffects are the same.
Untreatable contagion. It's a matter of time, and it's largely a plague of our own making. We had practically every serious bacterial threat under control or even eradicated for all intents and purposes. But, we couldn't leave well enough alone, started shooting everything full of antibiotics for reasons unrelated to human health.
It would help if humans washed their hands. It’s simply stunning to witness the number of people who don’t wash their hands after using the restroom or touching door-handles after washing their hands! Does everybody use toilet paper?
My husband has been a cattle raiser for many years. His use of antibiotics in his herd has been extremely rare. He has on occasion given a sick animal antibiotics but usually they either get well or die without any assistance from him.
Livestock given antibiotics must be withheld from slaughter for a specified period depending upon the anti bioticsd but normally 30 to 60 days. If a carcase tests for AB, it is traced back to the feed lot with undesireable concequences for the producer.
“Its simply stunning to witness the number of people who dont wash their hands after using the restroom...”
Didn’t your mom teach you NOT to pee on your hands?
A friend walked me through a chicken farm, consisting of gigantic rooms full of chickens, walking in their own waste. The smell is what got me. These chickens breath ammonia day after day. The only fresh air they ever experience is on the truck ride to the processing plant. I suppose this is why small farm chickens taste so much better.
Those barns you disparage are one of the reasons real food prices have declined more than 30% over the last 40 years.
My observation is that some self proclaimed macho dudes with less than 2 digit IQs typically do not wash their hands?
Is it because it is now considered effeminate to wash crap off of one’s hands so as not to contaminate others? We the people ask and need to know.
It’s why people would be very wise to expend more time raising your own food and control both the environment and what the livestock is fed...and less time enriching Hollywood, cable news and Facebook losers.
At the very least buy locally and have the ability to see the environment of the critters and the produce you eat. Factory farms are exactly what they are called. More food for their profit and the owners have neither respect for consumers nor the livestock. I much prefer eating food for health.
If I were you I’d spend much less time being brainwashed by the media and enjoy a longer healthier lifespan raising your own food.
Good point and I agree totally. I’ve seen the same thing many times too. It’s about common sense or lack of, and it has nothing to do with education or job.
I’ve often had to eat with grimy hands because of a situation, job conditions, military, etc but it was always because of a lack of facility. If I use a public restroom with running water I always take a minute or so to wash my hands as a matter of respect for others and to my own health.