Antibiotics: Agribusinesses’ Pound of Flesh

Antibiotics: Agribusinesses’ Pound of Flesh
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The FDA’s suggestion that the meat industry voluntarily stop feeding antibiotics by the ton to farm animals to fatten them faster falls short of the changes needed to forestall the epidemic of antibiotic resistance.

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When farm animals are fed antibiotics, they can develop antibiotic-resistant bacteria in their guts and then the gut bacteria becomes manure on meat, which can spread to humans–even vegetarian humans, since drug resistant bacteria in the animal feces can also spread to people through crops or the environment. The exhaust fans can blow MRSA superbugs straight out into the surrounding area from pig operations, or poultry operations. You can find MRSA floating around outside these sheds containing thousands of turkeys or chickens. This may explain why in Europe, human MRSA infection has been tied to just living in a region with industrial pig production, whether or not people have direct contact with livestock.

These findings may not just be limited to Europe though, where their factory farms pale in comparison to what we have here in the States. But we didn’t know for sure, until now. Proximity to swine manure application to crop fields and livestock operations each was associated with MRSA and skin and soft-tissue infections in people here in the U.S. These findings contribute to the growing concern about the potential public health impacts of high-density livestock production.

Achievements in modern medicine, such as surgery and the treatment of preterm babies, which we today take for granted, would not be possible without access to effective treatment for bacterial infections. Within just a few years, we might be faced with dire setbacks, unless real and unprecedented global coordinated actions are immediately taken to protect these wonder drugs. So the use of antibiotics just to promote the growth of farm animals to slaughter weights should be banned worldwide as has happened in the EU. Europe stopped feeding pigs and chickens tetracycline and penicillin to promote growth about 40 years ago, something we continue to do to this day.

The Pew Commission recently published a 5-year update on their landmark blue-ribbon commission report on current agricultural practices that found “the present system of producing food animals in the United States presents an unacceptable level of risk to public health.” Their #1 recommendation was to ban the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics, but agriculture lobbies are not going to give up the use of antibiotics without a fight.

In December 2013, the FDA released a guide for industry, their voluntary guidance for industry. They recommend antibiotics no long be used to just fatten animals for slaughter but emphasize that they are just that, toothless, non-legally enforceable suggestions. This voluntary approach has come under withering criticism from the public health and medical communities concerned about the increase in antibiotic-resistant bacterial pathogens.

The USDA is considering even going backwards, eliminating the requirement to even test for Staph aureus at all in the federal school lunch Program. They understand that school-aged children are considered a ‘‘sensitive population,’’ hence, more stringent requirements, including sampling and testing, may be considered to help assure safety and public confidence. However, the cost of such programs must be weighed against the cost of buying the food needed to support the program.

As one University of Iowa epidemiologist said, “although human health should take priority over farm animals, farmers will be reluctant to change until researchers can come up with safe and cost-effective practices to replace the use of antibiotics.” How much are antibiotics really saving the industry? The net bottomline benefit from the use of antibiotic feed additives may only be about $0.25 per animal, which means eliminating the risky practice of feeding antibiotics by the ton to farm animals would raise the price of meat less than a penny per pound.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Bunshee via Flickr.

When farm animals are fed antibiotics, they can develop antibiotic-resistant bacteria in their guts and then the gut bacteria becomes manure on meat, which can spread to humans–even vegetarian humans, since drug resistant bacteria in the animal feces can also spread to people through crops or the environment. The exhaust fans can blow MRSA superbugs straight out into the surrounding area from pig operations, or poultry operations. You can find MRSA floating around outside these sheds containing thousands of turkeys or chickens. This may explain why in Europe, human MRSA infection has been tied to just living in a region with industrial pig production, whether or not people have direct contact with livestock.

These findings may not just be limited to Europe though, where their factory farms pale in comparison to what we have here in the States. But we didn’t know for sure, until now. Proximity to swine manure application to crop fields and livestock operations each was associated with MRSA and skin and soft-tissue infections in people here in the U.S. These findings contribute to the growing concern about the potential public health impacts of high-density livestock production.

Achievements in modern medicine, such as surgery and the treatment of preterm babies, which we today take for granted, would not be possible without access to effective treatment for bacterial infections. Within just a few years, we might be faced with dire setbacks, unless real and unprecedented global coordinated actions are immediately taken to protect these wonder drugs. So the use of antibiotics just to promote the growth of farm animals to slaughter weights should be banned worldwide as has happened in the EU. Europe stopped feeding pigs and chickens tetracycline and penicillin to promote growth about 40 years ago, something we continue to do to this day.

The Pew Commission recently published a 5-year update on their landmark blue-ribbon commission report on current agricultural practices that found “the present system of producing food animals in the United States presents an unacceptable level of risk to public health.” Their #1 recommendation was to ban the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics, but agriculture lobbies are not going to give up the use of antibiotics without a fight.

In December 2013, the FDA released a guide for industry, their voluntary guidance for industry. They recommend antibiotics no long be used to just fatten animals for slaughter but emphasize that they are just that, toothless, non-legally enforceable suggestions. This voluntary approach has come under withering criticism from the public health and medical communities concerned about the increase in antibiotic-resistant bacterial pathogens.

The USDA is considering even going backwards, eliminating the requirement to even test for Staph aureus at all in the federal school lunch Program. They understand that school-aged children are considered a ‘‘sensitive population,’’ hence, more stringent requirements, including sampling and testing, may be considered to help assure safety and public confidence. However, the cost of such programs must be weighed against the cost of buying the food needed to support the program.

As one University of Iowa epidemiologist said, “although human health should take priority over farm animals, farmers will be reluctant to change until researchers can come up with safe and cost-effective practices to replace the use of antibiotics.” How much are antibiotics really saving the industry? The net bottomline benefit from the use of antibiotic feed additives may only be about $0.25 per animal, which means eliminating the risky practice of feeding antibiotics by the ton to farm animals would raise the price of meat less than a penny per pound.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Bunshee via Flickr.

Nota del Doctor

Note Purdue, our third largest poultry producer, recently stopped much of their antibiotic usage due to consumer pressure—a good sign!

For those not familiar with MRSA, please see my past videos on the topic:

For more on antibiotic use on the farm, see:

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

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