"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Saturday, March 14, 2009

MRSA with your Meat?

Another reason to seek out local meat from small scale producers, if you need one besides humane treatment of animals, supporting small farmers, and reducing the carbon-cost and the water cost of your food - oh yeah, and better taste: public health. The problem of antibiotic resistance has been around for a long time, and it has multiple roots. The misuse and overuse of antibiotics in human health care is a source of resistance, but not on the same scale as industrial meat production. Over the last few decades, since cattle and hog feedlots (CAFOs) became incredibly large and numerous, we have actually forced the evolution of new, super resistant microbes that are now posing a serious and growing threat to human health. MRSA - methicillin resistant staphylococcus areaus - now kills more people in the U.S. than does AIDS. Additionally, it is responsible for thousands of infections which cause debility, disfigurement, and amputations every year. If you have kids in school, you have probably heard about MRSA outbreaks in your community. And I haven't even begun to talk about the other life threatening bugs out there which are becoming more and more difficult to treat as a result of antibiotic resistance: salmonella, campylobacter, E. Coli. The way we produce meat is harmful on so many levels, in so many ways, to animals, to the earth, and to our bodies and our children's bodies. Please think twice before you buy meat. It isn't hard to find naturally produced meat from small scale operations.

The article below (edited) is from a website called "the Ethicure," a great source of news and quality writing on the subject of food sustainability. 

Day two of the American Public Health Association... the panel promised to cover CAFOs and would be led off by David Wallinga, who directs the food and health program at the Minneapolis-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

And lead it off he did, with a riveting talk on the epidemic of antibiotic resistance. It has everything to do with the way we produce meat: Many CAFOs, which crowd hundreds or thousands of animals into a confined space, do their best to ward off the illness that can quickly sweep through the barns by feeding animals low doses of antibiotics throughout their lives. The industry and NGOs both estimate that around 30 million pounds of antibiotics are used in the livestock sector each year, including penicillin and other common human antibiotics. And an estimated 70% of that is fed to animals that aren’t sick.

How is antibiotic use in CAFOs leading to resistant illnesses in humans? David gave us a mini-lesson in bacterial evolution: It’s fast, it involves a lot of mutation, and given prolonged and repeated exposure to antibiotics, the most resistant bacterial strains tend to survive. They survive in manure, which gets into water sources; they survive on the animals as they’re taken to slaughter; and they survive around the barns where workers come into regular contact with them. There’s a scientific consensus emerging, he said, that heavy antibiotic use in agriculture is contributing to the transmission of antibiotic resistance in the human population.

Although it can be transmitted through contaminated water or direct contact with animals, the most common route of transmission is through contaminated food. “Much of the meat we can buy in the grocery store has antibiotic-resistant bacteria on it,” he said. We’re talking resistant Salmonella, E. Coli, staph, and other superbugs. The FDA has estimated that over 150,000 U.S. residents develop Cipro-resistant campylobacter –- a nasty disease that causes severe intestinal distress and can lead to death — from eating chicken contaminated with resistant bacteria.

Increasingly, doctors are seeing E. Coli superbugs that are resistant to the newest generations of antibiotics. “These are the biggest guns in the arsenal of an infectious disease doctor,” he said. “And E. Coli is beating them.”

Let’s say that again with feeling: In the interest of keeping CAFO livestock alive long enough to fatten them and bring them to slaughter, we are compromising the tools – new and old – that doctors use to fight common but potentially deadly human illnesses. And in case your inner technological optimist just reared its head, let’s give it a whack: The discovery of new antibiotics is more and more rare these days, so it’s by no means guaranteed that we’ll be able to create a new tool out of thin air once the current box is empty.

David was followed by John Balbus of the Environmental Defense Fund, who built off the first presentation with a case study of MRSA (a staph infection resistant to methicillin, a newer form of penicillin) and its link to the industrial hog industry. Get this: A full 95% of the antibiotics fed to hogs are human-use drugs, and the oinkers wolf down over 10 million pounds of antibiotics each year.

MRSA has existed for quite a while, but was always isolated in hospitals, where the large number of sick patients and prevalence of antibiotics was prime breeding ground. But in 2005, MRSA was discovered on pig farms across Europe. Evidence suggests it’s evolving in the U.S. as well. (One study found it on 70% of pigs the researchers tested in Iowa and Illinois.) In the U.S., MRSA already has a higher death toll than AIDS.

So what can we do to stop the superbugs? More research, for one. No one’s really been looking at MRSA and hogs in the U.S., nor have we been looking for the presence of MRSA on pork we buy in the supermarkets — but it’s there. And of course, we need to be investing in sustainable agriculture that avoids the use of antibiotics except when absolutely necessary. Cause really, if you need to jack up your animals to keep them alive, doesn’t that suggest there might be a problem with the system? 


Pat Gardiner said...

Good Article - Well Done!

I have spent almost decade on this disaster, day after day: there at the beginning, with pigs and in pig country when the horror story started. We decided on a self-sufficient lifestyle and walked into a nightmare.

There is little doubt that MRSA in pigs has been leaking into the hospitals for some years.

There was a nasty mutation to a porcine circovirus in Britain in 1999 which caused an epidemic that required huge quantities of antibiotics to handle the consequences.

MRSA in pigs was the result, usually the ST398 strain.

The Dutch picked up the problem about four years ago and commendably make everything they knew public.

Both circovirus and MRSA epidemics have now travelled the world along with accompanying cover-ups. It is quite a nasty situation - now coming to light in the USA.

MRSA st398, mutated circovirus and various other unpleasant zoonotic diseases have now reached American pig farms.

The people exposing the scandal in the US are to be commended.

I have extensive records available to anyone researching the link and can often answer general questions quickly and accurately.

Pat Gardiner
Release the results of testing British pigs for MRSA and C.Diff now!
www.go-self-sufficient.com and http://animal-epidemics.blogspot.com

Aimee said...

wow! Thank you! I will certainly keep your contact information and pass it along to anyone who wants more information.

TheMartianChick said...

Excellent information! I hope that the word continues to get out and that people rise up against factory farms and all of the problems that they cause.