Reader Errol Wells of Elba, NE made my and DVM Mike Apley's day last month. Wells e-mailed me to say he'd recently responded to an article in his local newspaper, The Grand Island Independent. The article, entitled “Dietitian: Industrial food model leading to widespread famine,” was a report on a talk by clinical dietitian and “investigative nutritionist” Melinda Hemmelgarn before attendees of the Rural Advantage/Healthy Farmers Conference.

According to the report, Hemmelgarn provided her view on how “modern agricultural practices are threatening the health of billions of people and leading humankind down the path of worldwide famine.”

In the article, Hemmelgarn said 84% of all antimicrobials are being used in agriculture.

“Now we are finding that Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections are killing more people in the U.S. than AIDS,” she said. “When you go to your supermarket and pick up a package of meat from any of those industrial livestock facilities, you can bet there is going to be antibiotic-resistant bacteria present on that meat.”

Wells says that comment kindled his recall of Apley's “Vet's Opinion” column in the February issue of BEEF (page 12). Entitled “A little ammo,” the Kansas State University associate professor in veterinary clinical sciences wrote the following:

“And have you been following methicillin-resistant Staph.aureus (MRSA) in the press? It causes skin and other infections and is spread by contact in places such as locker rooms or long-term care facilities. When Staph.aureus becomes resistant to the methicillin class of penicillins, it is resistant to all but the last-ditch antibiotics. Most articles I've read about these infections eventually end by mentioning how antibiotic use in food animals contributes to the resistance problem.

“But the human MRSA outbreaks in the U.S. are different strains than those found in animals. Perhaps that human form of MRSA is proliferating due to inappropriate and unrestrained antibiotic use in humans? Naw, couldn't be.

“Again, the food-animal industry isn't without fault with reference to antibiotics in relation to selected organisms. But we don't need to let the above-mentioned manure spreaders continue to operate in road gear.”

Wells used that passage in the letter he penned to the editor of his local paper upon seeing Hemmelgarn's comments. He said he hadn't yet seen the letter in print, however.

I forwarded Wells' note to Apley who responded with this very appropriate comment:

“Good job, Errol: We need at least one like you in every community that won't take their half-truths lying down. …This is exactly what I hoped would happen when I wrote this article. You have made my day (week actually).”

I'd like to add my own “Good job, Errol!”