Heavy reliance on antibiotics in medicine and agriculture has brought about drug-resistant bacteria, which exacerbate successful treatment of many infections.
That’s a fact that people responsible for food production at large, from farm to table, say they’re very aware of as the Drug Administration has been encouraging farmers to use as little antibiotics as possible.
Every year, many restaurants and supermarkets commit to only selling meat raised without antibiotics or at least a minimal amount.
So why are sales of “sub-therapeutic” antibiotics for use on swine, cattle and poultry which represent the biggest protein sources for most individuals, still going up?
The latest statistics tell the story:
“Antibiotic sales for use on farm animals increased by 1 percent in 2015, compared to the previous year. The increase was slightly greater, 2 percent for antibiotics used as human medicine.
But a glimmer of good news in the latest figures, pointing out that the rate of increase has slowed. In the previous year, antibiotic use had increased by 4 percent, and a total of 22 percent from 2009 to 2014.”
Burger King say they’re switching to chicken raised sans antibiotics in stores in 2017, because it’s critically important to human medicine.
Chickens raised for food in concentrated animal feeding operations – CAFOs are definitely on the radar in this regard.
It is important to responsibly reduce human antibiotics on the farm so that these medicines can continue working when they’re needed to treat illness.
Researchers continue to urge food companies to deploy a class of antibiotics called ionophores, which can’t be used on humans.
Beyond chicken CAFOs, bacteria found on cattle seem to be increasingly resistant to ciprofloxacin, and it’s worse for CAFO turkey, on which samples showed Salmonella ramping up that is resistant to more than a few drugs.
New super bugs are emerging far too rapidly. For instance, a strain of E. coli resistant to not just one but two of the last-resort antibiotics has now emerged.
And researchers also recently discovered a new gene, called mcr-1, in pigs and people in China – a gene mutation that makes bacteria resistant to our last-resort class of antibiotics.
Unfortunately, loopholes have made it far too easy for farmers to walk into a veterinary feed supply store and pick up an 80-pound bag of antibiotics without a prescription.
In 2015, a report revealed that 62 percent of all the antibiotics used in food animals were “medically important” for human health.
One of the most alarming aspects of the issue is that of all the antibiotics used, 70 percent are used for agricultural purposes and that’s in large part for purposes of growth promotion and to head off diseases that are rampant in CAFOs.
Conditions present when raising 1,000 or more cattle or 20,000 chickens in a small space and in the shortest amount of time possible can be nothing short of brutal. The need for antibiotics is largely for nothing other than bulking the animals up as much as possible for maximum profit.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that allowing less than a square foot of space for each chicken among thousands, without even enough space to move, leads to injuries and stress, and deplorable conditions which leads to illnesses and consequently, more drugs.
Scientists have been warning that using antibiotics in increasing amounts, as they’ve been doing in recent years, would result in antibiotic-resistant super bugs, especially for chickens, pigs and cattle. But farmed fish and seafood are seeing the rise of a new breed, no pun intended.
Individuals at particular risk are those in need of risky procedures such as cardiac bypasses and organ transplants.
In fact, even surgery that has been thought of as routine, such as caesarean section and joint transplants, is now considered potentially dangerous because of the prevalence of these new and hard-to-kill super bugs, especially if they keep flourishing.
The British government recently released a report on the problem, and the news was ominous: While today around 700,000 people die from antibiotic-resistant infections globally, that number could skyrocket to 10 million by 2050. That’s only 33 years away.
Nearly one-third of all prescriptions for antibiotics are unneeded, or incorrectly prescribed by doctors, which is part of the problem, 47 million unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions are given every year.
Scientists are looking for new drugs to treat evolving bacteria, but the last new class of antibiotics was discovered in the 1980s. While pharmaceutical companies led the development of new antibiotics decades ago, that has changed.
Even the UN General Assembly weighed in on what is now clearly a crisis, holding a high-level meeting for only the fourth time in its history that it’s time to tackle a health concern. A report indicated that in some parts of the world, there are bacteria resistant to all known antibiotics.
This was only the fourth time in the organization’s 71-year history that a health issue has been treated with such gravity, putting antibiotic resistance on par with HIV and Ebola.
The antibiotics that are causing all the commotion are known as the carbapenem class, such as Doribax (doripenem), Primaxin (imipenem) and Merrem (meropenem), the type hospitals look toward as a last line of defense against hard-to-treat bacterial infections.
Colistin is one drug used in more animals than people and is currently the only antibiotic left that works against some human infections. But colistin resistance, which probably started in livestock, began spreading worldwide in 2015. The European Medicines Agency says some EU countries could easily cut their use of this antibiotic 25-fold.
The problem gene, called blaIMP-27, was found after researchers took bacterial swabs and fecal samples from 1,500 pigs and the walls and floors of pig pens. It’s identified as one that can easily spread between species. Because it was found in an enclosed area rather than in an animal population being fattened for slaughter.
To cut to the chase, some countries effected a new policy in the first few days of 2017 designed to keep certain antibiotics from being used to promote growth in animals. It’s a voluntary ban aimed at safeguarding essential antibiotics for humans, which also puts these antibiotics under veterinarian control and makes them harder for farmers to access.
Under the Drug Administration policy, antibiotics that have been designated ‘medically important’ – in other words, they’re needed to treat people, cannot legally be given to healthy animals to speed their growth. The policy, three years in the making, requires producers of agricultural antibiotics to change labeling on the drugs to make clear they should not be used for so-called growth promotion. All manufacturers have agreed to abide by the new rule.
Unfortunately, since the ban is voluntary, food manufacturers may continue using these safeguarded drugs for illegal growth-promotion purposes instead of using them for purposes of disease prevention only.
The pig super bug is particularly troubling because it’s a threat to global public health. Although some experts think that it is already too late, and that we are living in a post-antibiotic era, I believe that there are still things that can be done to minimize the risk.
Banning the use of antibiotics as animal-growth promoters; using veterinary antibiotics to treat only sick animals; adopting smart antibiotic-prescribing in human medicine; and generally reducing the number of antibiotics being prescribed. Eating organic food raised without the use of antibiotics except in limited cases when medically necessary, is also extremely important.
As it stands, The Food & Environment Reporting Network (FERN) asserts that the huge numbers of pig CAFOs are literally changing the pattern of flu seasons, because they open the door, so to speak, for flu viruses to cross from humans to animals and vice versa. In two of those flu seasons in the winters of 2009 and 2010, flu cases peaked much earlier than in 2008 and 2012.
Researchers believe the virus going around in the earlier flu seasons was carried onto farms by workers and spread to the pigs. As it circulated among the animals, the virus reproduced far more prolifically than it would have if it hadn’t been in a CAFO.