December 20th, 2016
by Dr. Mercola
Antibiotic-resistant bacteria infect at least 2 million Americans every year. At least 23,000 die as a result.1 The growing threat of antibiotic-resistant disease is one of the biggest health threats facing the globe, yet, unlike some other pressing health threats, it has a clear and well-known cause: overuse of antibiotics.
“The use of antibiotics is the single most important factor leading to antibiotic resistance around the world,” the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes, explaining “simply using antibiotics creates resistance.”2
The drugs are one of the most commonly prescribed drugs in human medicine, and up to 50 percent of the time they’re prescribed when not needed or using incorrect dosing or duration, according to the CDC.
This is problematic, but it pales in comparison to the use of antibiotics in food animals, which is driving rates of antibiotic resistance sky high.
Antibiotics Transform Farm Animals Into ‘Disease Factories’
Eighty percent of the antibiotics used in the U.S. are used by industrial agriculture for purposes of growth promotion and preventing diseases that would otherwise make their concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) unviable.
With animals packed into tight quarters, fed unnatural diets and living in filth, disease flourishes. Low doses of antibiotics are added to feed as a matter of course, not only to stave off inevitable infectious diseases but also because they cause the animals to grow faster on less food.
“But there is a terrifying downside to this practice,” Scientific American reported. “Antibiotics seem to be transforming innocent farm animals into disease factories.”3The antibiotics may kill most of the bacteria in the animal, but remaining resistant bacteria are allowed to survive and multiply.
You can be exposed to the resistant bacteria by eating contaminated meat or consuming produce grown in contaminated soil or exposed to contaminated water.
It’s becoming clear, however, that the deadly resistant microbes may be spreading far easier and wider than has been previously realized. According to Scientific American:4
“Recent research shows that segments of DNA conferring drug resistance can jump between different species and strains of bacteria with disturbing ease, an alarming discovery. By simply driving behind chicken transport trucks, scientists collected drug-resistant microbes from the air within their cars.”
Industrial Agriculture Makes It Difficult to Prove They’re Endangering Public Health
The industrial agriculture industry has denied that antibiotics usage in animals poses a direct risk to public health, and it’s difficult for researchers to prove the point, in part, because the industry makes it harder.
Under the guise of protecting the animals’ health, some CAFO farmers are instructed by their meat producer bosses to not allow researchers on the farms. In reality, they’re tying the hands of scientists, lest they produce the proverbial smoking gun that forces the lucrative practice of administering low-dose antibiotics to stop.
Dr. James Johnson, an infectious disease physician at the University of Minnesota, told Scientific American, “Frankly, it reminds me of the tobacco industry, the asbestos industry and the oil industry … We have a long history of industries subverting public health.”5
There has been some revealing research, even still. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which can cause deadly infections of the skin, blood and lungs, was first discovered in pigs and pig farm workers in the Netherlands in 2004.
Since then, this livestock MRSA strain has spread across Europe, Canada and the United States, causing both mild and life-threatening infections.
Last year, research published in Clinical Infectious Diseases revealed that current workers at pig farms are six times more likely to carry multi-drug resistant MRSA than those without exposure to CAFO pigs.6
They also observed active infections caused by livestock-associated Staphylococcus aureus (LA-SA). Worse still, aerosolized MRSA has been detected in the air inside and downwind of a pig CAFO, as well as in animal feed.7
Also revealing, people who have close proximity to pig CAFOs and areas where CAFO pig manure is applied to crop fields are more likely to be infected with MRSA, adding to the “growing concern about the potential public health impacts of high-density livestock production.”8
Voluntary FDA Guidelines Allow CAFOs to Keep Feeding Animals Antibiotics
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued guidance on agricultural antibiotics on December 11, 2013, but it didn’t go anywhere near far enough.
They asked drug companies to remove indications for “feed efficiency” and “weight gain” from the labels of their antibiotic products. They also require veterinarians to oversee any addition of these drugs to animal feed and water.
Most companies have agreed to comply with these voluntary guidelines and state they no longer use antibiotics for growth promotion purposes. Instead, they simply state they use the…