Start A Petition

CDC Reveals Scary Truth About Factory Farms and Superbugs

Health & Wellness  (tags: antibiotics, deaths, factory farms, food, diseases )

- 2100 days ago -
The CDC report lays out a couple of specific pathogens whose spread among people is driven by farm practices. Drug-resistant campylobacter causes 310,000 infections per year, resulting in 28 deaths, the report states.


We hate spam. We do not sell or share the email addresses you provide.


Kit B (276)
Wednesday September 18, 2013, 9:14 am
Image Credit: Germ, bull, hat: Shutterstock

Nearly 80 percent of antibiotics consumed in the United States go to livestock farms. Meanwhile, antibiotic-resistant pathogens affecting people are on the rise. Is there a connection here? No need for alarm, insists the National Pork Producers Council. Existing regulations "provide adequate safeguards against antibiotic resistance," the group insists on its site. It even enlists the Centers for Disease Control in its effort to show that "animal antibiotic use is safe for everyone," claiming that the CDC has found "no proven link to antibiotic treatment failure in humans due to antibiotic use in animals."

So move along, nothing to see here, right? Not so fast. On Monday, the CDC came out with a new report called "Antibiotic resistance threats in the United States, 2013," available here. And far from exonerating the meat industry and its voracious appetite for drugs, the report spotlights it as a driver of resistance. Check out the left side of this info graphic drawn from the report:

***Info graphic at VISIT SITE **

Note the text on the bottom: "These drugs should be only used to treat infections." Compare that to the National Pork Producers Council's much more expansive conception of proper uses of antibiotics in livestock facilities: "treatment of illness, prevention of disease, control of disease, and nutritional efficiency of animals." Dosing animals with daily hits of antibiotics to prevent disease only makes sense, of course, if you're keeping animals on an industrial scale.

The CDC report lays out a couple of specific pathogens whose spread among people is driven by farm practices. Drug-resistant campylobacter causes 310,000 infections per year, resulting in 28 deaths, the report states. The agency's recommendations for reducing those numbers is blunt:

• Avoiding inappropriate antibiotic use in food animals.

• Tracking antibiotic use in different types of food animals.

• Stopping spread of Campylobacter among animals on farms.

• Improving food production and processing to reduce contamination.

• Educating consumers and food workers about safe food handling


Then there's drug-resistant salmonella, which infects 100,000 people each year and kills 38, CDC reports. The agency lists a similar set of regulations—including "Avoiding inappropriate antibiotic use in food animals"—for reversing the rising trend of resistance in salmonella.

Finally, there's Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, which racks up 80,461 "severe" cases per year and kills a mind-numbing 11,285 people annually. The CDC report doesn't link MRSA to livestock production, but it does note that the number of cases of MRSA caught during hospital stays has plunged in recent years, while "rates of MRSA infections have increased rapidly among the general population (people who have not recently received care in a healthcare setting)."

Why are so many people coming down with MRSA who have not had recent contact with hospitals? Increasing evidence points to factory-scale hog facilities as a source. In a recent study, a team of researchers led by University of Iowa's Tara Smith found MRSA in 8.5 percent of pigs on conventional farms and no pigs on antibiotic-free farms. Meanwhile, a study just released by the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found that people who live near hog farms or places where hog manure is applied as fertilizer have a much greater risk of contracting MRSA. Former Mother Jones writer Sarah Zhang summed up the study like this for Nature:

The team analyzed cases of two different types of MRSA — community-associated MRSA (CA-MRSA), which affected 1,539 patients, and health-care-associated MRSA (HA-MRSA), which affected 1,335 patients. (The two categories refer to where patients acquire the infection as well as the bacteria’s genetic lineages, but the distinction has grown fuzzier as more patients bring MRSA in and out of the hospital.) Then the researchers examined whether infected people lived near pig farms or agricultural land where pig manure was spread. They found that people who had the highest exposure to manure—calculated on the basis of how close they lived to farms, how large the farms were and how much manure was used—were 38% more likely to get CA-MRSA and 30% more likely to get HA-MRSA.

In short, the meat industry's protestations aside, livestock production is emerging as a vital engine for the rising threat of antibiotic resistance. Perhaps the scariest chart in the whole report is this one—showing that once we generate pathogens that can withstand all the antibiotics currently on the market, there are very few new antibiotics on the horizon that can fill the breach—the pharma industry just isn't investing in R&D for new ones.

****graph at VISIT SITE***

Last year, the Food and Drug Administration rolled out proposed new rules for antibiotic uses on farms. At the time I found them wanting, because they include a massive loophole: They would phase out growth promotion as a legitimate use for antibiotics, but still accept disease prevention as a worthy reason for feeding them to animals. As I wrote at the time, "The industry can simply claim it's using antibiotics preventively and go on about its business—continuing to reap the benefits of growth promotion and continuing to menace public health by breeding resistance." To repeat the CDC's phrase from its new report, "These drugs should be only used to treat infections." Worse, the FDA's new rules would be purely voluntary, relying on the pharma and meat industries to self-regulate.

Nearly a year and a half later, the FDA still hasn't moved to initiate even that timid step in the right direction. Perhaps the CDC's blunt reckoning will provide sufficient motivation.

By: Tom Philpott - food and ag correspondent | Mother Jones Magazine |

David C (75)
Wednesday September 18, 2013, 1:07 pm
I'm glad this is starting to get some notice....if we don't want to end up living in a post-antibiotic era we need to stop using on farms and cut down the excess use in humans......

. (0)
Wednesday September 18, 2013, 1:35 pm
Great article. Thanks for sharing, Kit.

Mike M (8)
Wednesday September 18, 2013, 2:35 pm
And they still are only revealing a small portion that they know and can prove because big corp will have a fit if they people found out the real complete truth

Lyn Romaine (108)
Wednesday September 18, 2013, 3:01 pm

Roger G (148)
Wednesday September 18, 2013, 3:16 pm
noted, thanks

Care two is lost (252)
Wednesday September 18, 2013, 3:48 pm
Factory farming is an evil empire. It must change drastically!

Carrie B (306)
Wednesday September 18, 2013, 6:11 pm
Factory farming is responsible for so many things that are unhealthy, inhumane, and just plain wrong! Will they ever be stopped?

Kit B (276)
Wednesday September 18, 2013, 6:24 pm

Will it ever be stopped? Not while it is so profitable and the government agencies are unable to enforce any protections for either the welfare of the animals or human health. I know people are not going to give up meat but they could limit their meat to once or twice a week and drastically reduce the profits and therefore the size of factory farming.

Twyla Sparks (208)
Wednesday September 18, 2013, 8:33 pm
Thanks, Noted

Kim Ireland (23)
Thursday September 19, 2013, 1:04 am
Stop buying their shyte - the only real healthy way is organic - no monsanto seeds, no artifical antibiotics and growth hormones in the meat and so much more humane

TomCat S (125)
Thursday September 19, 2013, 1:59 am
Great info, Kit! Thanks!

Monica D (580)
Friday September 20, 2013, 12:49 am
Stop factory farms ...

Past Member (0)
Saturday September 21, 2013, 4:16 am
I would be happy if the price of meat was doubled if that is what it takes to ensure all meat is produced humanely, naturally, and without all the antibiotics. Then again, I already buy organic meat, and may not have it every meal.

Carmen S (611)
Saturday September 21, 2013, 5:23 pm
Thanks Kit for sharing this article and bringing attention to this.

Monika K (13)
Sunday September 22, 2013, 10:22 pm

Nimue Michelle Pendragon Gaze (339)
Thursday September 26, 2013, 5:02 am
Go veg! :)
Or, log in with your
Facebook account:
Please add your comment: (plain text only please. Allowable HTML: <a>)

Track Comments: Notify me with a personal message when other people comment on this story

Loading Noted By...Please Wait


butterfly credits on the news network

  • credits for vetting a newly submitted story
  • credits for vetting any other story
  • credits for leaving a comment
learn more

Most Active Today in Health & Wellness

Content and comments expressed here are the opinions of Care2 users and not necessarily that of or its affiliates.

New to Care2? Start Here.