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Women’s Magazines Blame Farmers For Breeding Superbugs

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Antibiotic resistance is a huge concern for U.S. consumers. Is livestock production to blame? Two consumer magazines certainly think so!

Flipping through two popular women’s magazines recently, I was disturbed to find articles featuring animal agriculture. In the May editions of SELF and Redbook, livestock producers were blamed for creating superbugs, breeding disease and causing antibiotic resistance.

According an article titled, “How Farms Contribute To Superbugs,” featured in Redbook:

“Antibiotics are given to cows, chickens, and pigs — and it's hurting everyone's health.
Farmers feed their herds antibiotics, and not just when they're sick. On factory farms, for example, healthy broiler chickens ingest small doses of antibiotics (the same ones we need to cure human diseases) in their food daily to help them grow faster and prevent them from getting sick. Because the doses are so low, the antibiotics don't kill bacteria. Instead, the germs develop resistance. Then the bugs are passed to humans. Farming-industry groups point out that this practice is approved by the Food and Drug Administration. But, there has been some news on that front recently: The FDA has announced it's working with drug companies and farmers to phase out the use of antibiotics for growth promotion over the next few years. Their aim is to require a vet's assessment to dole out meds.”

A second article, “Warning: There could be superbugs in your dinner,” found in SELF reads:

“Let's run through the stats: Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control was tracking an outbreak that sickened 20 people, mostly in New England, from drug-resistant salmonella linked to ground beef. Last year, 136 people in 34 states were made sick by resistant salmonella tied to ground turkey, and 12 people in 10 states were made ill by resistant salmonella associated with premade turkey burgers. A strain of drug-resistant E. coli on salad sprouts sickened nearly 3,900 people in Europe last summer, including six Americans, one of whom died. There were three known foodborne superbug outbreaks in 2009; two in 2007; and one in 2004—caused by shrimp contaminated with drug-resistant E. coli—that had 130 known victims. Although the link between farm-bred superbugs and stomach illness is most clear, researchers worry that food may be transmitting other illness as well, including drug-resistant infections of the skin, urinary tract and blood.”

While these articles point out a growing problem we can’t deny – antibiotic-resistant bacteria, the link to animal agriculture isn’t clear. Sure, humans and animals use similar medicines, like penicillin for example, but ranchers use antibiotics judiciously to prevent the spread of disease and to maintain optimal health in their animals. Recently, the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance hosted an online table discussion about the use of antibiotics in livestock production to help alleviate consumer concerns on this topic. They provided excellent information about antibiotics, and they offer great resources on their website. Here are a few facts about antibiotics in animal agriculture:

  • Veterinarian oversight: Producers consult with veterinarians about antibiotic use. In fact, veterinarian involvement is mandated for all antibiotics approved since 1988.
  • Meat and poultry for food are rigorously monitored by law: Meat and poultry for human consumption must pass inspection and monitoring by the Food Safety Inspection Service under the Federal Meat Inspection Act.
  • Many antibiotics sold for animal use are not used to treat humans: According to FDA statistics, 35% of antibiotics sold for animal use are in classes not used in human medicine. And all antibiotics are carefully examined for any human health implications before they are approved and incorporated into labeling. This means they have no possibility of contributing to antibiotic resistance bacteria in people.
  • No cases of animal antibiotic use leading to antibiotic-resistant superbugs: There has been no proven link to antibiotic treatment failure in humans due to antibiotics used in animals for consumption.

To get all the facts on antibiotics, click here.

For additional information, check out this video featuring veterinarian Tom Noffsinger, as he discusses animal health and food safety.

Without a doubt, this discussion on antibiotic resistance and superbugs isn’t going away. If consumers link human health to animal agriculture, it will certainly change the way we use pharmaceutical items in the livestock industry.

Do you foresee needing a prescription for all medicines used in livestock production? Do you predict more government oversight and increased restrictions on the products you use in your operation?

Discuss this Blog Entry 27

on Jun 4, 2012

This was also a topic on the TV show, "The Doctors" on Monday. The feature focused mostly on chicken. One quote I took away from the segment was this:

"Perhaps consumers should be willing to pay more for food, so agriculture doesn't have to economize the production process so much."

Clearly, this is a hot topic that we need to discuss in order to have a productive conversation with our consumers, retailers, media partners and elected officials.

Andy Dake (not verified)
on Jun 5, 2012

I am a physician, in fact I trained at the same residency as the host of "The Doctors." The real and proven culprit in antibiotic resistance is human medicine itself. It is well documented that that doctors over prescribe antibiotics, but there are additional causes. Doctors often prescribe broad spectrum antibiotics for simple infections, i.e. they prescribe too powerful of a drug for the germ. This has the unintended consequence of causing resistance in bacteria that were not intended for treatment. Pharmaceutical companies also contribute to the resistance problem. Because they often economically dictate formularies in hospitals, doctors often have to use antibiotics rather than their first choice. Again this causes resistance in bacteria that were not intended for treatment. Any physician will tell you where the well known MRSA developed...it was in the ICU's of hospitals that indiscriminately used broad spectrum antibiotics with hospital workers transmitting germs between patients due to poor aseptic technique. It was not on a hog, chicken or cattle farm.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jun 6, 2012

As a fellow physician who trained at an Ivy (you toot your horn, I'll blast mine), there are a lot of assumptions in this. Did you consult multiple veterinarians about superbugs and resistance? Do you have data about how often animals on factory farms die of resistant bacterial infections? Even further, do you think the government that bans people from filming these farms entirely would publish such data? Do you know about the flora of a cow, chicken, or pig? I personally don't, which is why I don't assume all of this. I do know that >50% of the antibiotics used in the US are used on these farms. I'd be shocked to find out (that's "find out," not "be told by you") that there's no connection there and that animals don't develop similar resistant infections in light of the fact that they're being slammed with antibiotics as opposed to being somewhat judiciously given them by an MD in an ICU.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jun 4, 2012

You should check out the May Issue of Women's Health there is an article in there that is really good talking about meat's options. It is very well written and not skewed.

on Jun 5, 2012

Thanks for the heads up. I will check that out! On another note, SELF Magazine is a basket full of contradictions...just 5 pages before the superbug article is a piece titled, "Want to get lean? Eat your protein!" And, it discusses the protein values in everything from a ribeye ( 3 oz. has 24 grams of protein) to white beans ( one cup has 16 grams of protein). Also, last month, CarrieUnderwood, HSUS supporter and vegan, was their cover girl, and this month it was Miranda Lambert, who is pro-ag, pro-meat and pro-hunting.

hutch (not verified)
on Jun 5, 2012

sounds like good old fashioned greed. do whatever it takes to sell
copy. greed is likely behind most of this sensationalistic journalism ( loosley used ).

E.M. (not verified)
on Jun 4, 2012

Because the over prescription of antibotics in people could never be the source of super-bugs! Just like the hormones could never be related to birth control or other human drugs that also find their way into the environment! Heaven forbid the general public take responsiblity for something instead of blaming agriculture.

on Jun 5, 2012

I think it's important to ask ourselves as producers, are we responsible? Are we using antibiotics judiciously? Are we putting consumers at risk? And, if so, maybe we need to freshen up on our BQA protocols and do a better job. But, for the most part, I believe animal agriculture does a great job. And, it is the overuse of prescription meds, hand sanitizers, disinfectants, etc. in the human population that is causing problems.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jun 5, 2012

Factory farms, not family farms, are the culprits. To economize, they do not provide an environment that is conducive to animal health, so they have to feed antibiotics to compensate.
Family farms care about their animals, and provide a healthy environment. The problem is that typically all the meat is processed in the same facilities, so the healthy meat is contaminated by the unhealthy meat.

on Jun 5, 2012

I personally don't know any factory farmers in the beef business. According to the USDA, 97% of farms are family-owned and operated.

As far as meat being contamintated...by what? For antibiotic use, there is a withdrawal period that producers must follow to make sure there isn't any residue when the animal is taken to slaughter. Beef quality assurance protocols help to ensure the safety and integrity of our beef supply.

hutch (not verified)
on Jun 5, 2012

i would be interested in meeting your professors where your agriculture degree and expertise was obtianed.

on Jun 5, 2012

I don't claim to be an expert on anything. I'm just a cattle producer introducing timely topics for discussion. Mostly, my knowledge comes from the school of hard knocks!

But, for your reference, I graduated with an ag communications, leadership and education degree from South Dakota State University, and I learned from very intelligent animal and meat scientists such as Dr. Kelly Bruns, Dr. Duane Wulf and Dr. Amanda Weaver.

hutch (not verified)
on Jun 6, 2012

sorry Amanda that comment was for anonomous in the prior comment. i have also wondered why people feel that someone like michael pollan is an expert, with no formal training in animal or meat science, or nutrition. i see where he and other supposed food experts and chefs have put their knowledge to work making reccomendations to washington concerning the food program bill ( don't seem right to call it a farm bill when the vast majority of the money goes to non-production programs).

hutch (not verified)
on Jun 6, 2012

i should have said that snipe was intended for anonomous. i probably should not even comment on blogs because i am having a difficult time not being beligerant towards these experts?? and liberals, and free thinkers that tend to get their info from the internet and believe whatever nonsense that is throwed at them as fact. i'm not cut out to play nice with the other kids.

Brian Reed (not verified)
on Jun 5, 2012

The creation of drug resistant bacteria is everyone's and no one's fault. The swine and poultry industries regularly put tetracyclines through the water at sub-theraputic levels to prevent disease because of animal concentration. Because of the animal's close proximity to another, if one gets sick its an instant epidemic that would wipe out many animals before treatment could begin.

The same can be said for the human population, where you are encouraged by society and media to go see your doctor if you have the sniffles. That is the fault of the drug companies, who now run commercials saying "Go see your doctor and get a prescription for our product".

on Jun 5, 2012

Well said, Brian.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jun 5, 2012

Things will never change. The meat industry pays politicians billions so the meat industry can do whatever they want to the public include infect them with superbugs. They paid.

on Jun 5, 2012

I might have to disagree with you on this one. Beef producers judiciously use antibiotics to maintain optimal animal health, but I don't believe it's to the detriment of food safety or human health.

John R. Dykers, Jr. (not verified)
on Jun 5, 2012

My background as a physician AND both a commercial and purebred producer who feeds his calves to slaughter weight on the farm AND owned and operated and worked extensively on the kill floor, ageing cooler and the processing room and am a certified meat cutter and marketed our own beef to farmer's markets and restaurants and retail outlets, may I add a few facts to this discussion.
Bullet point 3, last sentence: "This means they have no possibility of contributing to antibiotic resistant (not resistance) bacteria in humans." This is simply NOT TRUE. Bullet point 4 is also NOT TRUE.
BUT the same biology that makes these NOT TRUE cuts both ways in that the same practices in human medicine also lead to antibiotic resistant bacteria that can infect cattle and chickens and pigs.
Bacteria are all over humans and cows and pigs and chickens. Too many to count and the numbers are so large as to be meaningfully understood only as compared to the national debt the the light years to the fartherst galaxy! These bacteria are always mutating, that is their DNA is changing due to breaks and chips in the molecular chains, and these mutations are occurring caused by everything from ageing to a common cold to chemical exposure to sunlight, you name it!
When any animal, humans included, are given an antibiotic it kill the bacteria that are sensitive to it (that is why we give it!) and the bacteria that are resistant survive, hopefully only a few and our body's immune systems deal with them and the animal, humans included, gets well. The SUREST way to create a large number of resistant bacteria is to give a small dose of any antibiotic for a long time. We do this in cow, pig, chicken agriculture especially when we are comingling calves that have come from multiple sources into a crowded feedlot, crowding shoats into pig parlors or chickens into chicken houses. We do this for good reason as the crowded conditions are likely to cause sickness and death loss. (Think kindergarten and all the kids catch each other's colds and bring them home!)
Treating human illness for "10 days" is a largely irrational holdove from a beautiful study in Utah in the 1960's that demonstrated 10 days of penicillin for strop throat prevented rheumatic fever. NO OTHER study, to my knowledge, has shown 10 days to be dogma for anything! I demonstrated that a single dose of metronidazole would cure trichimonas better that a 10 day regimen. (www.dykers.com New England Journal of Medicine) A single dose of Cipro may cure a urinary tract infection. The shorter the dose the lower the likelyhood of resistance and the greater the risk of recurrence from not reducing the infection to a level that the particular patient can handle. We don't know the bad germ in most infections when first treated and because of this we should usually choose at least two antibiotics, use big doses, and reevaluate in 48-72 hours and stop or change drugs depending on patient response.
Resistant bacteria, especially in the gut, salmonella and e. coli are the most famous, MAy/CAN contaminate the beef, pork or chicken in the processing plant. These can come from the gut of the animal being processed or the gut of the processor! Same thing may happen to vegetables! even to eggs!
OUR BEST WEAPON against these germs is irradiating the finidhed product, and untill that is widely used, wash your hands, don't pick up meat off the processing room floor! KNOW your antibiotic treated animal HAS resistant germs and handle with care! (resistant does not mean more contagious or more virulent) ALL germs were effectively RESISTANT before the 1930's when sulfa was first used and the 1940's when penicillin was discovered!
Don't let the vegans get awsy with bad mouthing healthy meat proteins and DON'T FOOL OURSELVES aboutt antibiotic resistant bacteria arising from long term low dose use wherever that may be happening, including our confined feeding operations.
johndykersmd@dykers.com
www.dykers.com

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jun 5, 2012

Well Said!

on Jun 5, 2012

I really appreciate your perspectives on this, John. Thank you!

John R. Dykers, Jr. (not verified)
on Jun 5, 2012

There was also a case report in the New England Journal of Medicine a few years ago about a vets son who had a fatal appendicitis and the researchers attempted to track the bacterium to 3 farms that the vet had visited. They failed to recognize that the germ could have traveled from the son to the vet father then to the farms just as easily as the other direction.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jun 5, 2012

I think it is important to take the time to write or email the editor os these magazines when seeing these kinds of articles. The oublic needs to be reminder repeatedly that human take a lot more hormone treatments. All the ads for "low T" testosterone replacement and birth control pills arre a few examples. And post birth antibiotics - compare animals to humans.

on Jun 5, 2012

Absolutely! A letter to the editors of these publications would be very appropriate. And, you can bet many of these readers are using hormonal birth control pills, so that angle might certainly catch their attention.

farmideas (not verified)
on Jun 6, 2012

A vitally important topic, and "yes", agri antibiotics should all be on prescription. We need proper farmer's education on antibiotics and drugs which encourages them to say "no" to vets who want to sell and feed companies who want to include them. Comingling and other stressful events need to be done better, with slower integration, on-farm segregation and quick isolation of any sick stock. We need to use these tools sparsely and wisely, or else we will be in real trouble in 20 years time.

Mathena (not verified)
on Jun 6, 2012

Sat it loud enough, and say it long enough, and everyone will take it as true. This is just like GMO grain is toxic, which hasn't been proven either. Media, and stupidity are the #1 killers of industry.
I'm with what others that have said that the most likely reason for these "super bugs" are people going to get antibiotics for a cold.
I think 99% of farmers follow the rules set by the FDA, and fellow the withdraw time. I know I sure do!

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jun 8, 2012

I was so glad to here that you responded to the article in SELF magazine. I have a B.S. in animal science and am working on my Masters in agribusiness while I work as a food animal technician at the vet school in our state. I love agriculture and it makes me angry to see people miseducating the public on matters such as this. The blame that was put on food animal practitioners in this article is absurd.

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A fifth-generation rancher from Mitchell, SD, Amanda grew up on a purebred Limousin cattle operation in which she and husband Tyler are active. She graduated with a degree in agriculture journalism...

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