June 10, 2009
An interesting article by Associate Editor Dale Keiger in the latest issue of Johns Hopkins Magazine explores the links between industrial farming and antibiotic-resistant pathogens. It covers researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who are investigating the use of antibiotics in factory farming, which cultivates more than poultry and livestock. Support for the continuing research comes from the School’s Center for a Livable Future.
The lengthy and well-researched article provides a comprehensive look into the complex issue of antibiotic resistance and other dangers posed by Concentrated Animal Feeding Opeations (CAFOs). In the article, Kellogg Schwab, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Water and Health, says of a typical pig farm manure lagoon he sampled: “There were 10 million E. coli per liter [of sampled waste]. Ten million. And you have a hundred million liters in some of those pits. So you can have trillions of bacteria present, of which 89 percent are resistant to drugs. That’s a massive amount that in a rain event can contaminate the environment.” He adds, “This development of drug resistance scares the hell out of me. If we continue on and we lose the ability to fight these microorganisms, a robust, healthy individual has a chance of dying, where before we would be able to prevent that death.” Schwab says that if he tried, he could not build a better incubator of resistant pathogens than a factory farm. He, Ellen Silbergeld, professor of environment health, and others assert that the level of danger has yet to be widely acknowledged. Says Schwab, “It’s not appreciated until it’s your mother, or your son, or you trying to fight off an infection that will not go away because the last mechanism to fight it has been usurped by someone putting it into a pig or a chicken.” The complete cover story “Farmacology” is available here. Additional information on the use of antibiotics in animals can be found in the report, “Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America,” a project of The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Bloomberg School of Public Health.