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New Dangers from Factory Farm Bacteria and Antibiotics

staph-infection-032813Factory farms like to tell us that the increasingly antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the animals there can’t be transmitted to humans. A new study shows this to be categorically untrue.

Researchers in Britain and Denmark have analyzed data from two farms in Denmark, and have concluded that there is a clear connection between giving routine antibiotics to livestock and the increase in dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria in humans.

The results, published in EMBO Molecular Medicine, confirm animal-to-human transmission of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a disease-causing bacterium.

According to the  report:

Drug-resistant bacterial infections pose a significant challenge to public health and may have severe and sometimes fatal consequences.

Methicillin-resistant S. aureus can lead to debilitating skin and soft tissue infections, bacteremia, pneumonia and endocarditis.

“Our findings demonstrate that the MRSA strains we studied are capable of transmission between animals and humans, which highlights the role of livestock as a potential reservoir of antibiotic-resistant bacteria,” remarked Ewan Harrison, one of the lead authors of the study.

There’s a growing number of outbreaks of MRSA, especially at hospitals, around the United States, and doctors are increasingly worried that there are no new antibiotics to take on the increasingly resistant strains of bacteria. That means we are seriously headed back to the situation we were in before the days of antibiotic medicine, when you could die from a minor infection.

pigs-cafo-farmsanctuary-032813Animals at factory farms, meanwhile, are still routinely dosed with low levels of antibiotics, not just for apparently medical reasons but because antibiotics also make them grow faster. Factory farm operators insist, against all the evidence and common sense, that these antibiotics don’t make their way into the food supply.

But David A. Kessler, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, warns today that the situation is getting dangerously out of control. In a New York Times op-ed, he writes:

We need to know more about the use of antibiotics in the production of our meat and poultry. The results could be a matter of life and death.

… In 2011, drug makers sold nearly 30 million pounds of antibiotics for livestock — the largest amount yet recorded … Rather than healing sick animals, these drugs are often fed to animals at low levels to make them grow faster and to suppress diseases that arise because they live in dangerously close quarters on top of one another’s waste.

“Feeding low-dose antibiotics to animals is a recipe for disaster”

… When he accepted the Nobel Prize in 1945 for his discovery of penicillin, Alexander Fleming warned that “there is the danger that the ignorant man may easily underdose himself and by exposing his microbes to nonlethal quantities of the drug make them resistant.” He probably could not have imagined that, one day, we would be doing this to billions of animals in factorylike facilities.

… Feeding low-dose antibiotics to animals is a recipe for disaster … Lawmakers must let the public know how the drugs they need to stay well are being used to produce cheaper meat.

Fortunately, this is one health crisis we can all do something about. You don’t have to be one of the millions of people getting a daily dose of antibiotics and risking an incurable staph infection. You can lower your risk dramatically by not eating food from factory farms.

Stay well; eat a plant-based diet!