Antibiotics Don’t Stand a Chance Against Superbugs
In early August, Cargill recalled 36 million pounds of ground turkey from its Springdale, Arkansas plant. In September the company recalled another 185,000 pounds from the same plant. In both cases, the FDA found meat tainted with salmonella Heidelberg, a bacteria resistant to antibiotics currently available.
Superbugs that can fight off antibiotics the way superheroes fight off villains used to be fodder for science fiction. Not any more. The World Health Organization reports that 25,000 people a year die of antibiotic-resistant infections just in the European Union.
Since antibiotics arrived on the scene and took much of the fear out of diseases such as scarlet fever, they have become the darling of patients and doctors alike. After years of ignoring warnings that bacteria mutate, those who prescribe antibiotics and those who take them are in for some rude shocks. A new class of superbugs is on the attack, and antibiotic development is not keeping up with them.
It is no wonder. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimated in 2009 that 70 percent of U.S. antibiotics were used on farms. Last December the Center for a Livable Future increased that estimate to 80 percent. As it turns out, no one outside industry is minding the shop. In September 2011, the U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report that took HHS (Health and Human Services), FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) to task for inadequate assessment and oversight.
Industry responded quickly. The National Pork Producers Council insisted, “Not only is there no scientific study linking antibiotic use in food animals to antibiotic resistance in humans, as the U.S. pork industry has continually pointed out, but there isn’t even adequate data to conduct a study.”
Tell that to the team of researchers from Denmark, Australia and Canada whose study appears in the September 2011 issue of Foodborne Pathogens and Disease. They conclude:
“Resistance in E. coli isolates from food animals (especially poultry and pigs) was highly correlated with resistance in isolates from humans. This supports the hypothesis that a large proportion of resistant E. coli isolates causing blood stream infections in people may be derived from food sources.”
Factory farming of animals means crowded and unsanitary conditions. Animal health and animal growth are pushed through antibiotics instead of through humane, sustainable practices. Human health is threatened because we cannot assume antibiotics will be effective when diseases strike.
The jury is no longer out. It has reached a verdict. Consumers have choices and can exercise them with every visit to the grocery store.
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