CBS Airs First Segment, “Animal Antibiotic Overuse Hurting Humans?”


Watch CBS News Videos OnlineIn the first installment of a two-part series, CBS Evening News Anchor Katie Couric investigates the connection between the use of antibiotics in factory farms and the incidence of MRSA in humans. Couric talks to a worker at an Arkansas poultry processing facility who developed MRSA; discusses the use overuse of antibiotics on the farm with Shelley Hearne, managing director of the Pew Health Group at The Pew Charitable Trusts; and tells viewers about a University of Iowa study, which found a new strain of MRSA — in nearly three-quarters of hogs (70%), and nearly two-thirds of the workers (64%) — on several farms in Iowa and Western Illinois. All of them use antibiotics, routinely. On antibiotic-free farms no MRSA was found. Couric also talks with Iowa hog farmer Dave Kronlage who admits he uses antibiotics to accelerate growth and fend off disease. The CBS web site contains the expected statements from the National Pork Producers Council, the National Pork Board, and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. Tomorrow night CBS Evening News will feature part two of the series, which focuses on Denmark’s ban on antibiotic use.

Veterinarians Respond to Sen. Grassley

by Amy Peterson, DVM, and Meghan Davis, DVM, MPH

In a Sept. 29th prepared floor statement, Senator Chuck Grassley spoke in response to an August 21st Time magazine article by Bryan Walsh.  An important point raised by Mr. Walsh concerned the non-therapeutic use of antimicrobials in food animals and the impact of use of antimicrobials on the emergence of drug-resistant strains of bacteria. The PEW commission report on industrial food animal production (IFAP) cites several studies supporting a connection between the use of antimicrobials and development of drug resistance in both pathogenic (disease-causing) and non-pathogenic bacteria on and around industrial animal farms. A major component of Senator Grassley argument is captured in his quote of a response to the PEW report released by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) on August 17th. The response states that “[a] scientific human/animal nexus, connecting antimicrobial treatments in animals with foodborne or environmentally-contracted human disease, has not been proven.” Read More >

Pa. School Board Transportation Committee Hears Concerns

I accompanied Dr. Roni Neff to southern Pennsylvania last week and this week to attend a school board and committee meeting in order to share information about public health threats associated with large-scale food animal production facilities. Roni was invited by the Peach Bottom Concerned Citizens Group to present this information because of concern about a proposed 2,450-head hog facility to be located about a quarter of a mile away from a site where eight South Eastern School District buses are parked up to 14 hours per day.

It was quite an eye-opening experience. Both meetings were contentious because of tensions between a farmer wanting to transition to a large-scale food animal operation and citizens’ concern about the impact this type of facility will have on the surrounding environment and human health. Debates such as this one (but not necessarily surrounding school buses) have been occurring around the country for decades as food animal production has become increasingly consolidated and dependent on industrial, large-scale operations where thousands of animals are raised in confined settings. Read More >

PAMTA Under Fire from Farm Bureau

In a letter to Congress, the president of the American Farm Bureau said that a bill to ban the nontherapeutic use of antibiotics, introduced last week by Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), would hurt the health of livestock and compromise food safety.

A Reuters News Agency report quoted the letter from Bob Stallman, who told Congress that Farm Bureau members “carefully, judiciously and according to label instructions” use antibiotics to treat, prevent and control disease in animals.

“Antibiotic use in animals does not pose a serious public health threat,” said Stallman, who urged lawmakers to oppose the bill. “Restricting access to these important tools will jeopardize animal health and compromise our ability to contribute to public health through food safety.” he added. Read More >

Antibiotic Use in Industrial Food Animal Production Gaining Notice

Two op-ed articles were published in The New York Times this past week by Nicholas Kristof in regards to the misuse of antibiotics in animal feed. Our Pigs, Our Food, Our Health was in the NYT on Wednesday (3/11) and Pathogens in Our Pork appeared in Saturday’s (3/14) edition. It is encouraging to see such an often overlooked public health issue being brought to the attention of the millions of NYT readers.

Mr. Kristof brings up the point that any medical doctor can tell you: when you overuse and misuse antibiotics, resistance inevitably follows. With 70 percent of all antibiotic use in the United States going into animal feed (at sub-therapeutic levels), a pathway to antibiotic resistant bacteria is clear. And now for the really scary part, “These dangerous pathogens [antibiotic resistant bacteria] are now even in our food supply.” Read More >

MRSA Threat Spreads to Iowa Pig Farms

To continue that scary conversation about MRSA in pigs and farm workers, check out Andrew Schneider’s Seattle Post-Intelligencer blog entry.  After Schneider’s original report on the research of Dr. Tara Smith at the University of Iowa, he and Smith received plenty of feedback-most notably from FDA, CDC and USDA employees and members of Congress concerned that the government isn’t doing enough to ensure that pork products are not contaminated with the bacteria, which can be deadly. 

It’s good that some federal agency employees and legislators have this on their radar-but since they are the ones with the power to institute better protection from threats in our food supply, they should be fighting harder to make this a priority.  And public health advocates like us should be constantly reminding them of what needs to be done-and providing the research to back it up.

Study Connects MRSA in Swine and Swine Workers

A new study published by the University of Iowa connects Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in Midwestern US swine farms and swine workers and suggests transmission between the two. Prior to the study, there was only knowledge of the prevalence of this bacterium in locations including the Netherlands and Canada. MRSA is resistant to a wide array of antibiotics, and this University of Iowa study linked MRSA with an estimated 94,000 infections and over 18,000 deaths in the United States in 2005, based on data taken from several metropolitan areas. Read More >