We Need to Collect Data about Antibiotics Used on Farms

Courtesy: Flickr Lucid Nightmare

Which antibiotics are used on which farms? Photo courtesy: Flickr Lucid Nightmare

You have probably heard the oft-cited statistic that 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in the United States end up in food-producing animals rather than people. We know this because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires drug manufacturers to report the amount, in kilograms, of antibiotics that are sold, and whether they are intended for use in food animal production or medicine.

What may surprise you is that we have no idea how the 14.8 million kilograms of antibiotics sold for use in food-producing animals are actually used on farms. We do not know Read More >

Why We Need to Get All Chickens Off All Drugs

Chicken-pill-Alexander-Winch-2015We’re almost getting used to it by now: chicken producers and restaurant chains are flocking to get antibiotics out of their food chains. A rash of large food corporations have been announcing their plans to cut the use of human antibiotics in their chickens. Major headlines in the last year include: “McDonald’s Moving to Limit Antibiotic Use in Chickens,” “Perdue Says Its Hatching Chicks Are Off Antibiotics,” “Tyson: Nix Human Antibiotics in Chickens by 2017.”

And it’s a good thing, too: the misuse of antibiotics is of major concern in the ever-escalating problem of antibiotic resistance. Read More >

‘Superbug’ Transfer: The Jump From Humans, to Animals, and Back

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus

News media outlets throughout the nation were abuzz last week with the report of new scientific research showing, for the first time, how a strain of infectious Staph began life in humans, then spread to livestock where it became MRSA, and then jumped back to humans. The study was published Tuesday in the online journal mBio.

National Public Radio’s popular blog, The Salt, noted in its lead story Tuesday, that “Researchers have nailed down something scientists, government officials and agribusiness proponents have argued about for years: whether antibiotics in livestock feed give rise to antibiotic-resistant germs that can threaten humans.”

“Finally, a smoking gun connecting livestock antibiotics and superbugs,” said a headline in the online environmental publication Grist, written by contributing writer Tom Laskawy. As one who has covered the topic for years, Laskawy was not understating the importance of the research. Read More >

Study on Drug-Resistant Staph and Store-Bought Meat: What Most News Reports Are Missing

Staphylococcus aureus, Image Courtesy: CDC

Staphylococcus aureus, Image Courtesy: CDC

According to a recently published nationwide study of grocery store meats, the next time you handle a piece of meat or poultry bought at your local supermarket there is nearly a 50 percent chance that it will be carrying drug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (Staph). The Translational Genomics Research Institute study determined that the majority of those bacteria are likely resistant to several classes of antibiotics. Antibiotic-resistant strains of Staph are to blame for a host of illnesses, ranging from simple skin infections to life-threatening diseases, such as pneumonia and sepsis. Staph infects an estimated 500,000 patients in U.S. hospitals annually and more deathsdeaths are blamed on Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)infections every year than HIV/AIDS. Infectious disease experts warn the consequences of rendering antibiotics useless would be disastrous to modern medicine, which depends on antibiotics for everything from organ transplant surgeries and cancer therapies to the care of patients with trauma or battlefield injuries.

The frequency of detection of resistant bacteria on meat purchased in grocery stores is alarming.  Despite this, most of the news coverage we’ve seen this week misses a key message that can be gleaned from the conclusions of the study. The study does not point directly to new or heightened food-safety risks to the consumer, rather, it serves as verification that one of human medicine’s strongest safeguards against disease is quickly losing its efficacy, in part due to inappropriate use of antibiotics in the industrial food animal production system. Read More >

PAMTA Gathers Steam at Rules Committee Meeting

It was packed room at yesterday’s House Rules Committee hearing on the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA). The hearing, held to discuss the bill (HR 1549) introduced by Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, pumped additional energy into PAMTA, which now has 43 co-sponsors. The hearing followed several activities held during the past week to call attention to the bill, including a showing last Thursday night of the movie, “Food, Inc,” for Hill staffers.

Testifying were Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, principal deputy commissioner U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Margaret Mellon, Ph.D, director, Food and Environment Program, Union of Concerned Scientists; Lance Price, Ph.D., director, Center for Metagenomics and Human Health Associate Investigator, Pathogen Genomics Division; Bob Martin, former executive director, Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production; Steve Ells, chairman and CEO, Chipotle Mexican Grill; and Fedele Bauccio, president and CEO, Bon Appetit Management Company. Read More >