CRE Superbug Discovered on US Pig Farm

Looking for a good reason to go vegetarian? How about this one: Ohio State University researchers just found an antibiotic-resistant superbug on a pig farm.

Their findings appeared in the Journal of Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapyand they paint a troubling picture — though one that Modern Farmer says shouldn’t be cause for immediate panic.

Even so, it’s a warning sign about the state of the U.S. food supply, if you missed the myriad of other indicators. And it definitely means that we should monitor pork production more closely.

While I called it a “superbug,” the researchers know the bacteria as a carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE. That’s a fancy way of saying that it lives in the gut and resists a broad spectrum of antibiotics, including carbapenems. This class of antibiotics is often a last resort nuclear option when infections don’t respond to other treatments.

CRE has been found in farming operations all over the world, but it should really only show up in one place: hospitals, where extremely sick patients receiving treatment for stubborn infections may carry a load of CRE.

While CRE is present in U.S. hospitals — along with a host of other antibiotic-resistant bacteria – this is the first time it has shown up on an American farm.

And show up it did, in a handful of places, including areas used for farrowing. One place the bacteria didn’t appear was in pigs designated for slaughter, a positive sign for food safety — though people would have to consume undercooked meat or cross-contaminated foods to contract CRE.

Fortunately, none of the pigs were found to be sick. But the findings still rang alarm bells.

Many farmers worry that if animals contract CRE, infection could spread like wildfire, with no antibiotics available to treat it. Meanwhile, public health advocates remain concerned that if individuals become ill from meat, even healthy people could be in serious danger. Those with depressed immune systems would be at extreme risk.

The origins of the bacteria aren’t understood, but one potential culprit may have allowed CRE to spread. If someone unknowingly carried the bacteria on their workboots, trucks or other gear, it likely arrived in places where farmers routinely use other classes of antibiotics as part of animal husbandry.

Killing off other bacteria with those drugs may have created an opening for CRE to flourish, and that highlights the problem with the food system: Over 30 million pounds of antibiotics are used on farms across the U.S. every year, creating a perfect storm for antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Some farmers use the drugs to promote rapid growth, while others aim to prevent or control infections. The meat industry is geared towards getting animals as big as possible, as quickly as possible, so they can be sold at maximum value. Pigs and other livestock are often kept in crowded conditions that promote infection, which forces farmers to use antibiotics and facilitates the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

In a sense, many U.S. farms are living petri dishes.

That’s horrible news for animals, and it’s not great news for food safety, either. In a sense, however, meat eaters have brought the situation upon themselves with a demand for large quantities of cheap meat. It costs money to raise animals slowly  – without drugs — in healthy — uncrowded — environments, and many consumers aren’t willing to pay that premium.

Until Americans reduce their demand for meat, this is a problem that, like turkeys on unnecessary antibiotics, will only get bigger.

Photo credit: Helgi Haldórsson

74 comments

Marie W
Marie W8 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Melania P
Melania Padilla10 months ago

Oh US, when are you going to act on this! This is a serious issue, we will go back to the dark ages (maybe that way the human population diminishes....)

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Siyus C
Siyus Copetallus10 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Naomi D
Naomi Dreyer10 months ago

OH, OH, OH

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Nang Hai C
Nang Hai C11 months ago

thanks

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JT Smith
JT Smith11 months ago

I will never be looking for a reason to go vegetarian. The problem is not eating meat, the problem is the unnecessary use of antibiotics and a massive overpopulation of humans. Pure and simple.

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Chen Boon Fook
Chen Boon Fook11 months ago

ty

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heather g
heather g11 months ago

We certainly need more education about compassion and cruelty towards animals. The 30 million pounds of antibiotics are to keep unhygienic farms in profit.

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Nicole H
Nicole H11 months ago

I specially feel very sorry for the sick animals, because a treatment is no longer possible. So I presume that contaminated animals are slaughtered by the hundreds and thousands under the most worst conditions. Also the people working in such premises must have quite some anxieties. Can this bug invade / destroy a human body. It is well known that bugs do mutate at a worrying high speed, so I presume that within some time, the mutated variant will attack people as well. No treatment possible, so where is this catastrophe leading ? I understand that pork meat is to be consumed well cooked / boiled, and that then the bug is killed. This is always the case, also with other bugs. Meat and fish are to be cooked very well to a avoid contamination. But you will certainly agree with me that a great percentage of the population is not aware of this protective method and will serve meat and fish that is still partially raw.
Of course not eating pork wld be great, but for the majority of the population, pig together with chicken is the most affordable meat they can put on the table.
Although I feel a bit sorry for you, I must conclude that your government/s are to blame. In my very small European country the use of Antibiotics for raising animals have been lelally forbidden for at least 15 years longer and farmers are very regularly controlled on the use of anti-biotics. A vet, married and having 2 little children was brutally killed over night when he was returni

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Frank R
Past Member 11 months ago

Thank you

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