Chickens at One Straw Farm, Hereford, Md.
Today, Environmental Health Perspectives published an important study showing that the removal of antibiotic use on poultry farms results, quickly and dramatically, in a reduction of antibiotic-resistant Enterococcus. The study, led by Amy Sapkota of the University of Maryland School of Public Health, investigated the impact of removing antibiotics from U.S. poultry farms by studying ten conventional and ten newly organic large-scale poultry houses in the mid-Atlantic region. They tested for the presence of enterococci bacteria in poultry litter, feed, and water, and tested its resistance to 17 common antimicrobials, most of them critically important in treating human infections.
Sapkota’s research was funded in part by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF), and it validates the trend underway among some poultry farms—converting from conventional to organic methods. Sapkota, who earned a doctorate in Environmental Health Sciences at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public School and once served as the CLF research director, said, “We initially hypothesized that we would see some differences in on-farm levels of antibiotic-resistant enterococci when poultry farms transitioned to organic practices. But we were surprised to see that the differences were so significant across several different classes of antibiotics even in the very first flock that was produced after the transition to organic standards.” Read More >
Robert S. Lawrence, Director, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.
I applaud Nicholas Kristof for his column, “Our Pigs, Our Food, Our Health,” in Wednesday’s edition of The New York Times. Mr. Kristof zeroes in on a critical public health issue that could have dire consequences if we do not stop using antibiotics and other antimicrobials as growth promoters in industrial food animal operations.
Nearly a year ago, the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production released a report entitled “Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America.” After two years of extensive investigation, the Pew Commission found that the use of antibiotics in animals without a diagnosed illness (i.e., as growth promoters) was of “deep concern.”
In 1998, the National Academies of Science estimated that antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections were increasing health care costs by a minimum of $5 billion annually. The unchecked use of antibiotics in industrial agriculture is contributing to the spread of resistant organisms.
The volume of antibiotics used to treat human illness pales in comparison to the volume used in industrial farm animal production. In 2005, the Union of Concerned Scientists noted that while 3 million pounds of antibiotics were being used in human medicine each year, the food animal industry was using 24.6 million pounds, primarily to stimulate growth and increase production.
Resistant bacteria from industrial operations, such as the facilities mentioned by Mr. Kristof, can reach the human population in a number of ways-through our food and water supplies, the air we breathe, or direct contact with animals, to name a few. And there is increasing concern that this resistance can “jump” species of bacteria, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Prudent public health policy requires that non-therapeutic uses of antimicrobials in food animal production should stop. Economic analyses demonstrate that little economic benefit derives from using antimicrobials as feed additives, and that equivalent improvements in growth and feed consumption can be achieved by improved hygiene.
In 2006, Europe eliminated the use of antibiotics as growth promoters, and South Korea did the same last summer. The American Medical Association opposes the use of antibiotics in farm animals that are not sick, and WHO has called for phasing out the use of antimicrobials for growth promotion in livestock and fish production.
We must put an end to this practice.
*Note from LFB: You can follow Nicholas Kristof’s blog, On the Ground, or his Twitter feed.
The U.S. FDA has changed course on the agency’s previously announced plans to ban off-label use of celphalosporin drugs, a powerful class of antibiotics, in food-producing animals. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the FDA announced the planned crackdown on July 3, citing “the importance of cephalosporin drugs for treating disease in humans.” The ban was set to take effect November 30.
Despite concerns from public health groups and medical associations about the increasing risk of antibiotic resistance, officials from the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine said they needed more time to fully consider public comments received on the issue and noted that the agency might still move to impose the ban.