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Medicine Science

Animal Farms Are Pumping Up Superbugs 551

oxide7 writes "The philosopher Frederick Nietzsche once famously said, 'That which does not kill me, makes me stronger.' That may or may not be true for human beings, but it is certainly true for bacteria. The superbugs are among us and they are not leaving. Indeed, they are growing stronger. 'The problem is that the animal agriculture industry makes massive use of low-dose antibiotics for growth promotion and in place of effective infection prevention methods,' Young said, adding that the farm animal population is much larger than the human population. The low-dose antibiotics do not kill the disease. They make the disease stronger, more resistant to those and other antibiotics. The animals — the cattle, pigs and chickens — thus treated become superbug factories. The diseases stay in them and they wash off them to infect the surrounding environment."
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Animal Farms Are Pumping Up Superbugs

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  • Is this a news? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by chiui ( 1120973 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @12:10PM (#33760300)

    well known fact. And no regulation to stop it.

    • Re:Is this a news? (Score:5, Informative)

      by nedlohs ( 1335013 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @12:13PM (#33760344)

      The article is about proposed regulation stuck in committee to stop it. So apparently it's news for you at least.

      • Re:Is this a news? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @12:53PM (#33761144) Journal

        GOOD. I hope banning antibiotics in livestock passes. Also banning ag companies from accusing innocent farmers of stealing their gene-modified corn.

        This is a perfect example of unintended consequences, where antibiotics cure human disease, but then the germs "fight back" and revive in a more deadly form which we don't know how to stop. I wouldn't be surprised if the 2100s experiences as much death from disease as people in the 1800s did.

        • Re:Is this a news? (Score:4, Interesting)

          by maxume ( 22995 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @01:20PM (#33761712)

          Most of the resistance business is about penicillin derivatives, tetracyclines and vancomycin, all of which come from the 1950s or earlier.

          Sure, misuse is making those antibiotics less effective at treating diseases, but the other half of the equation is that they have been so effective for 50 years that it hasn't been particularly worthwhile to pursue drugs that use different mechanisms of attack.

          Rapid genome sequencing is changing that, expect all sorts of novel antibiotics over the next 20 years. Also expect to pay for them.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by inviolet ( 797804 )

            Most of the resistance business is about penicillin derivatives, tetracyclines and vancomycin, all of which come from the 1950s or earlier.

            Your conclusion is missing a vital piece of data. Vancomycin is the last line of defense for antibiotic-resistant infections in humans. That is why doctors avoid using it -- because it is vitally important that the bugs never acquire a resistance to it.

            I remember a few years ago, when the industrial-farming folks pushed through approval to use vanco in cattle feed. T

        • Re:Is this a news? (Score:4, Interesting)

          by BrokenHalo ( 565198 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @01:27PM (#33761856)
          This is a perfect example of unintended consequences

          It's also a perfect example of stupidity. Human beings haven't really been around that long (in fact, according to some Morm^Hons, I was apparently born before the descent of Man), and evolves comparatively slowly.

          Bacteria, on the other hand, can easily pick up scraps of extracellular DNA and incorporate it into their own, driving evolution effectively (i.e. where necessary) within a single generation of 15 minutes under optimal conditions. Bacteria might not be as smart as us (though I sometimes wonder), but their biochemistry can be seriously cool, and giving them the advantage in our food chain is just damn silly.

          Incidentally, you mention death from disease in the 1800s: It seems to surprise many to be reminded that the Spanish Influenza pandemic (1918-1920) killed more people than the First ("Great") World War. It killed more people in a single year than the Bubonic Plague did in four, from 1347 to 1351.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DJ Jones ( 997846 )
      Congress is too busy regulating rulers and paperclips in Science kits.
      • Doesn't the development antibiotic resistant bacteria involve evolution? Something that doesn't even exist and is just a Jewish conspiracy [].
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by jc42 ( 318812 )

          Doesn't the development antibiotic resistant bacteria involve evolution?

          Indeed, and this is occasionally used to illustrate why the evolution/creation "debate" isn't just an intellectual exercise. Here in the US, the creationists have effectively suppressed the teaching of evolution in our school system (below the college level). The result is that most of the population, including the people running all those farms, have been intentionally kept ignorant of the evolutionary process. They don't understand

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by n6kuy ( 172098 )

      Regulate it with your pocket book. Know what you are buying. Don't ask the government to limit liberty in lieu of your own due diligence.

  • How about we feed the animals the foods they were DESIGNED to eat (i.e. Feed Cows GRASS, Not Corn). Yes, the grass might cost more but you wouldn't need to pump them full of antibiotics.
    • by robably ( 1044462 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @12:14PM (#33760374) Journal

      How about we feed the animals the foods they were DESIGNED to eat

      Even better, feed them the food they have EVOLVED to eat.

      • Evolution is an automated design process with a more complete specification than manual engineering. It also works on economies and societies, though to get results you want you have to add impedances; governments seem to instead want to add a complete set of impedances to precisely engineer a society, and of course this fails.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by russotto ( 537200 )

          Evolution is an automated design process with a more complete specification than manual engineering.

          Eh? Evolution has no specification and only one requirement: Survive to reproduce.

      • by 0100010001010011 ( 652467 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @12:55PM (#33761194)

        Some people still do. It's not something you can get at Walmart but if you live anywhere close to the country there is a good chance that:
        1) There are farmers markets around. The best and freshest produce and meat money can buy, and usually competitive on price.
        2) Some farmers let you just buy a side of a cow (or an entire cow). So for $x00 you can buy an entire cow. The farmer raises it, kills it and you can have a say in how it is butchered. This does require a deep freezer (unless you're going to throw one heck of a braai). Usually ends up cheaper than super market and you know exactly where your meat is coming from.

        Cut out the middle man.

        • by hoggoth ( 414195 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @01:51PM (#33762330) Journal


          I (we) buy all of our food directly from farms. We live in a suburb of New York City, and still we have found farms not too far away.
          We buy a 1/4 cow (we split it with three other families) and it feeds us for a year. All of our produce comes from farms as well.
          Our beef and chicken is raised walking around eating grass and bugs and whatever it would naturally eat.

          The food tastes better and is better for us.
          A month doesn't go by that I don't hear of some horrible contamination-caused food recall that doesn't affect me or my family.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You'd still have to pump them full of antibiotics.
      The environment they are in tends to be pretty bad due to trying to pack as many animals together as possible to increase profit by lowering costs.

      Doubtless having animals eat the kinds of food they should actually be eating would help the situation some, though, as it would remove some of the needs for antibiotics and artificial diet balancers.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Stargoat ( 658863 )

        If you would have RTFA, you would realize that the animals are being pumped full of antibiotics to increase size, not to keep them disease free.

        • by Red Flayer ( 890720 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @12:23PM (#33760566) Journal
          The reason it increases their size is because it keeps them disease-free.

          Livestock stressed by illness don't grow as fast.
          • So, an environmental engineer absentmindedly decided it was worth keeping the disease and getting rid of the stress? I'm not sure legislation will work very well on this. For example, you can't legislate that the hole in the ozone layer go away, it just doesn't work like that. I didn't read the article, but, the legislation actually has to work. Does it?

    • Animals weren't DESIGNED in the first place.

      Though I guess we are in the process of designing cows to eat corn, though it'd be faster if we used fewer antibiotics...

    • by geekoid ( 135745 )


      They put antibiotics in animals regardless of their feed. And they have good reason to do so. Grass/Corn debate is crap.

    • by Kenja ( 541830 )
      Kill the corn subsidies and it will no longer be cost effective to use it as feed. Frankly, its not actually cheaper. Its just that we pay for part of it with our taxes.
    • How about we feed the animals the foods they were DESIGNED to eat (i.e. Feed Cows GRASS, Not Corn).

      Just because I feel like being pedantic, I'll point out that maize is a grass.

      (However, I do remember a documentary that described how the diet being fed to mass market cattle alters the chemistry of their guts to promote the growth of dangerous bacterial strains.)

  • "All bugs are equal but some bugs are more equal than others." -- Something George Orwell almost wrote.

  • What about... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by chiui ( 1120973 )

    using no antibiotics and killing the diseased animals? In the long rung they would get superanimals :)

  • Rage virus. Here it comes.

  • Can someone explain to me how giving animals antibiotics promotes growth of the animals?
    • Probably by supplementing their immune system so less energy is devoted to fighting or recovering from sickness and more can be directed into muscle growth. A sick animal isn't going to pack on weight like a "healthy" one. Just stressing some animals can weight loss.

    • Animals that are sick do not grow as fast, and possibly not as much in total, as healthy animals.
    • The antibiotics kill of bacteria that otherwise the animals immune system would have to deal with.

      That immune system would use valuable energy that could instead be used to growing more meat.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by t2t10 ( 1909766 )
      Nobody knows for certain, but it does work. (If it didn't work, agribusiness wouldn't be spending so much money on it.) It's probably that it's normal for animals to get bacterial infections, and while they are fighting them, they aren't eating and growing as much. If you can eliminate most of those infections, they will just grow without interruption, meaning they will grow bigger over the same time period.
    • Well... no (Score:3, Informative)

      by sean.peters ( 568334 )
      Actually, while there are a lot of theories (some of which are discussed in other responses), no one really knows why. It's not really curing any disease... antibiotics make even healthy animals grow faster. So actual answer to your question is no, no one can really explain this.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by geekoid ( 135745 )

      They help animals digest there food more efficiently. For example, about 5% of the food a pig eats would normally lost to the bacteria in the digestive tracks.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by pspahn ( 1175617 )

      Watch a documentary or two. Animals raised in an environment where they aren't exposed to typical bugs don't develop the same strong immune system as animals exposed to these things since birth. Imagine you were born in a box and lived your whole life in that box. After some time your immune system would become suppressed and you would need this stuff to survive.

      This reminds me of a study I once read about (I think it was done in Germany) where they looked at the immune systems of children raised on farms

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by gstoddart ( 321705 )

      Can someone explain to me how giving animals antibiotics promotes growth of the animals?

      Basically, they use them as a broad-spectrum prophylactic against things that might otherwise affect them and make them less productive/healthy animals.

      Essentially to compensate for industrial farming practices which are more or less awful conditions (cows enclosed in a stall standing in their own shit for hours at a stretch) they inoculate them against everything. They're also feeding them stuff [] that [] would [] make you cri

  • no shocker (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TheCarp ( 96830 ) < minus pi> on Friday October 01, 2010 @12:18PM (#33760442) Homepage

    I mean, anyone who has not had their head stuck in the ground for the past 30 years should be well aware of the whole antibiotics/superbug issue. The only possible exceptions being the evolution deniers and, I bet even many of them have some twisted concept that reconciles their philosophy with superbugs.

    However, I was reading that there is a new class of antibiotics in development, which are based on immune system antigens and, for some reason (anyone know more?) are thought to, because of their mechanism of action, not be susceptible to the same problem of evolving the bacteria to survive them.

    I don't know if its true or how they work but, if the article I saw a while back is right, then, they could be useful here. Then again, this just seems like a bad idea overall.


    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by llamapater ( 1542875 )
      that sounds like it could go very wrong if bacteria evolves to counter that and it mimics the bodies natural immune system we as a species may well be fucked
    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

      actually We should "rest" antibiotic then the superbugs should loose their resistance. Since their will be no evolutionary pressure to maintain resistance it should reduce over time.
      Part of the problem is that we then start giving them to farm animals because they are cheap.

    • by Firethorn ( 177587 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @01:29PM (#33761892) Homepage Journal

      However, I was reading that there is a new class of antibiotics in development, which are based on immune system antigens and, for some reason (anyone know more?) are thought to, because of their mechanism of action, not be susceptible to the same problem of evolving the bacteria to survive them.

      I liked what the Russians were working on for a while - Phages. More completely, Bacteriophages. Viruses for bacterias.

      No chance of the virus crossing over to affect humans, and a bacterial colony already under assault by the human immune system isn't generally going to last long when it's also 'sick' with a virus. As a bonus, immunity doesn't really happen because the virus adapts right along with the bacteria.

      The problem with phages is that they're the opposite of broad-spectrum antibiotics. They're very, very, specific. They'll clear a throat infection right up, but first you need a culture to determine which species of bacteria you have(there's millions/billions of them), then find an effective phage against it.

      That can take a week, then you gotta get the phage to the clinic, as most don't have the room for the number of phage samples you'd need.

  • by al0ha ( 1262684 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @12:18PM (#33760444) Journal
    Occasionally I get to drive by a huge corporate cattle ranch while on a trip; the animal's living conditions are deplorable. No shade in a hot arid climate, and hardly enough room to move around, they pack as many animals into a corral as possible. They stand all day in wet muddy shit, costs too much to provide land to roam and people to round them up.

    In my opinion, this exemplifies what is wrong with unabashed Capitalism. Who cares what happens, just make us more money now, is a philosophy ultimately doomed to failure. Time to get smart.
    • by MyLongNickName ( 822545 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @12:31PM (#33760732) Journal

      Actually, it is not what is wrong with Capitalism. This is what is called an externality []. Basically a unaccounted for benefit or cost. The role of government is to see things like this that the market cannot account for and be sure to tax or regulate according to the cost.

      It isn't terribly difficult. The problem is we have the right with their Pavlovian "Government is bad" chant, and the left which wants to micromanage. You then have the majority of the population which doesn't really understand economics and just listens to their favorite commentator think for them.

      • by Abcd1234 ( 188840 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @12:55PM (#33761188) Homepage

        Actually, it is not what is wrong with Capitalism.

        What? It's exactly what's wrong with capitalism. Hell, you pointed out the problem yourself! Negative externalities are *specifically* a fundamental flaw in pure capitalism, which is why it must be tempered with some level of government intervention.

      • by rsborg ( 111459 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @02:05PM (#33762588) Homepage

        Basically a unaccounted for benefit or cost. The role of government is to see things like this that the market cannot account for and be sure to tax or regulate according to the cost.

        This is exactly the definition of "Unbridled" Capitalism (ie, free from the government "bridle). I agree with you that it's in the common interest that capitalism is regulated, and the government is the best tool for that job.

        Our major problem isn't with the people who are brainwashed into "free markets == victory" mantra, but the brainwashers (ie, the corporate controlled media) and the money that pays everything and everyone to buy into that flawed concept.

        The wealthy and corporate elite are the ultimate villains here, they will do what they did to other countries where they strip-mined the land, put the people into slave labor, in the name of pure profits.

        We in the US/EU ignored it then because we benefited from it, but now it's coming back to bite us because these multinational corporations and their controlling funders are now more powerful than governments and have quite a few in their pockets. World domination won't come through the flawed UN, but instead through the "invisible hand" that controls and dominates numerous governments across the globe into doing it's bidding.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Fastolfe ( 1470 )

      I don't understand what this has to do with Capitalism. Can you describe some other type of economy that would not result in the same outcome? The real problem is that efficiency in cattle ranching is at odds with your sense of decent living conditions for these animals. Any system that rewards efficiency and does not adequately protect the animals will have this outcome. The solution is to regulate how animals are treated and their living conditions. Or, at the very least, have a certification and lab

    • When the first superbug from these farms crosses species, strikes the human population, and kills millions via the food chain in the form of disease or starvation, the problem with moral-free, unabashed capitalism will probably clear itself up pretty quickly - for better or worse.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by llZENll ( 545605 )

      Food Inc [] I watched it last year and made the switch to eating about 95% organic ever since. I tell people we are in the FOOD MATRIX right now, everyone is, when I go to a normal grocery store now all I see are the green 1 and 0s of the matrix code on the isle shelves, except instead of 1s and 0s they are processed corn, soy, and wheat lol. If people only knew, or cared to know. Watch this movie and you will know some of it, its sad, but you can help change it. Sadly it takes a long time as the mass mar

    • by jd ( 1658 )

      Amazingly enough, Prince Charles has actually said a few things over the years that are actually quite smart. The idea that towns will function better if there's a well-defined center is sound. The idea that people prefer buildings to look good, as well as function well, is obvious. In this particular debate, he has been slammed on all sides but again appears to have made some valid points - it is possible to farm economically AND be ecologically sound. The two do not have to be in conflict.

      Not sure about t

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 01, 2010 @01:18PM (#33761682)

      disclaimer, I raise some cattle

      This whole scene with the huge feedlots is a ripoff for the consumer and the end user eater..and for us small farmers. We only have a hand full of big packers in the US. Small farmers are forced to sell their feeder cattle at auction, because it is SO difficult to market full size eatin cows locally. It's possible, but mostly it just sucks, almost impossible People just don't have full size freezers anymore where they can fit a "side" or half a cow. So, we are forced to sell the cows at a lower weight, typically around 500-600 lbs at auction, for a suck ass cheap price, so the very few corporate buyers get them and ship them to the feedlots where they are fattened up like you describe in medium rank conditions. They have basically a ripoff cartel that sets prices. We as small farmers don't make much at all, most of the loot is made upstream at the packers and then the shippers, then with the wall street speculators who make a *ton* for doing nothing at all except being leeches. That $8.99 1lb ribeye you are eating we got paid around a buck for...maybe

      If more people would buy locally, we could change this. Our cows are grass fed and happy, plenty of room to move around, shade, all of that. What happens after the auction is out of our hands. You as consumers can change this, buy local, spend the money and get a decent sized freezer, you will get much cheaper beef and better quality.

  • 2) transfer livestock to condensed acre-sized feed lots with barely enough room for animals to move
    3) pipe sewage to huge waste ponds, then spew it out onto open ground. To hell with the neighbors who complain about the smell
    4) feed livestock said antibiotics to increase production.
    5) slaughter livestock, grind up by products, then feed to other livestock.
    5) profit!

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by TheLink ( 130905 )
      <quote>5) slaughter livestock, grind up by products, then feed to other livestock.</quote>

      That bit also happens unhygienically - very often the animal feces and bacteria get splattered everywhere contaminating the meat.

      Then the consumers are told to cook everything properly, and if stuff happens, it's the consumer's fault, not agribusiness fault...

      I've heard of a case where they dunk all the chicken in the same water after removing the feathers, and naturally that mixes and spreads all the bacte
    • by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @01:49PM (#33762296)

      3) pipe sewage to huge waste ponds, then spew it out onto open ground. To hell with the neighbors who complain about the smell

      It's not a waste pond, it's 100% all natural fertilizer storage the type of which has been in use since humanity began farming, including by those family farms you imagine were run so differently. The alternative is to spread artificial petroleum based fertilizer on everything or not be able to farm the same field after about 10 years. So yeah, to hell with the neighbors who complain about the smell, they don't know what they're talking about.

  • George Orwell, while researching one of his books, famously said "All animals are equal, but-- HOLY SHIT IS THAT CAR A FUCKING MOSQUITO?!?!!!!!11"
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 01, 2010 @12:23PM (#33760572)

    The usual anti-biotics we used was from a Pfizer product labeled LA-200 and it is expensive at around $140 every 5-ounces: about 1/4 ounce is used for a 350lb cow when we find one with a puncture wound or laceration. I've talked with smaller family farms on what they use on their animals to prevent infections and fight infections and it's always been a simple herbal formula consisting of crushed garlic mixed with crushed black walnut and applied as a paste that is more effective than Pfizer LA-200. Ive tried this same organic mix on fungal infections on my forearms and llower legs and it works better than the expensive tube pastes from convenience stores.

    What I find unsettling about LA-200 is that many of the cowboys equally take a smaller dosage by the same needle (before using on the cows though) because it's practically the same as what they would've been given from an HMO but much less expense.

  • Think about all the people who don't get vaccines for one reason or another (Jenny McCarthy's hysteria for example). While the low-dose antibiotics are making the bugs stronger, they kill off the weak and infirm of our population, making the overall herd that much stronger.

    Evolution at it's best!

  • by dominion ( 3153 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @12:24PM (#33760590) Homepage

    I am not a vegetarian, but we need to reduce our meat consumption. I'll never be a vegetarian, I'm too fond of my Sicilian-American culinary traditions, but two things need to happen: First, we need to reduce the amount of meat we consume, and we need to consume better meat when we do. This diet that America has of eating a big bucket of meat and cheese from Denny's is just ridiculous, and it's killing us on multiple fronts.

    I try to follow a basic plan: Vegan (or Vegetarian) before 6pm. I try and make sure the meat I do eat for dinner is high quality. I pay a little extra for it, but the savings throughout the day balance out. There are other types of diets that would be great for reducing meat consumption without any of us thinking we're suddenly living off of soy and wheat germ. Eating smaller portions of meat, but still using it for flavoring, for instance. Even just getting the idea in our heads that we shouldn't eat meat for every single meal.

    Factory farming has got to go, it's horrible on so many fronts. I'm not a foodie, and I don't have vegan super powers, and I recognize that people are on a budget, and can't shop for organic at whole foods (hell, I can't afford to, and I have a decent job). But we have to figure some kind of practical way forward, because we can't keep packing animals in to dark crates, standing in their own filth and pumping them full of drugs and then call that dinner.

    • by blueg3 ( 192743 )

      I don't understand why vegetarians use meat substitutes and consume, as you say, soy and wheat germ. There are plenty of vegetarian (and nearly vegan) cultures that have delicious food.

      I eat a lot of beef and pork on a regular basis and still don't come close to the national average for meat consumption, which is pretty disturbing.

    • by geekoid ( 135745 )

      People need to be educated n how much meat they need a day. It's not really that much.

      Factory farming is a very efficient way to feed a lot of people. It does not, and can not. go away. That doesn't mean it can't be improved.

      'Organic' food is a marketing scam. In most cases its more harmful, in the best cases its more expensive for less food.
      Meaning if you used to pay 25 cents for and apple, and organic apples will be 35 cents, and 20% smaller then the 25 cents apples and still be using the SAME chemicals.

  • Unfortunately, the problem is not in a particular case(s) of misuse, but in the generally low professionalism of medical professionals.

    For example, here in Canada it has become increasingly difficult to get an antibiotic prescription. Doctors fight tooth and nail when it comes to antibiotics, and as a result, a lot of people get treated late.

    I think the situation is best described by an old russian proverb: Make a fool pray, and he'll crack his forehead.

  • It's not the 'animal agricultural industry'. It's a bad farming practice. Your phrase implies it only happen in large corporate farms.

    Also, proper application and disposal removes this issue.Almost all the antibiotics exit the animals in using or feces.

    Frankly, slightly more expensive beef might be a good thing.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by treeves ( 963993 )

      ...more expensive beef might be a good thing.

      Most definitely! Have you had Kobe beef? MMmmmm.

  • buy organic (Score:2, Informative)

    by t2t10 ( 1909766 )
    It will be a long time before Congress acts, if ever. But you can protect yourself and make things better by buying meat from "organically" raised animals: animals that were raised without antibiotics and without having been raised in factory farms. Note that the "organic" label itself may be misleading depending on what you are and who uses it, so check more carefully what it means for that particular product (the label usually says it if they did go through the trouble of doing the right thing). You sh
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      Most places in the country have Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, and it well behooves one to look into these.

      I get about 15-25lbs of fresh produce, locally grown by a group of Amish farmers, every week - and it costs me about $15/wk and a half hour on Saturday running up to the local farmer's market to pick it up. Some places have the same kind of thing for grass-fed beef and (genuinely) free range chicken, and occasionally pork too.

  • Seriously, researchers have warned for years that using antibiotics in this way is a bad idea. It is also true for human patients, distributing antibiotics like candies tends to have the same effect. People use them too often or do not complete the treatment and the strongest bugs get selected and can happily repopulate an environment now void of competition.
  • by Attila Dimedici ( 1036002 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @12:50PM (#33761084)
    The summary gets one thing wrong. Antibiotic resistant bacteria are not stronger than those that are nor antibiotic resistant. As a matter of fact they are weaker. Generally, the way that bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics is by shutting down the cellular mechanism that the antibiotic uses to get into the cell. However, that cellular mechanism serves a useful function in the cell (usually to bring nutrients into the bacterial cell). When antibiotic resistant bacteria are in an environment without antibiotics they generally die off over a relatively short time-span. This is why currently most infections with antibiotic resistant bacteria occur in hospitals.
    That being said, excessive use of antibiotics is still a bad thing.
    • by crmarvin42 ( 652893 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @02:05PM (#33762592)
      Conventional wisdom agrees with you, but the evidence does not. Denmark has had a ban on growth promoting antibiotics for almost a decade now, with the rest of the EU having followed suit only a couple of years later. Several antibiotics that have been approved for use the US were never approved for use in the EU for agriculture. However, they were approved for use in humans. DANMAP is the danish antibiotic use and resistance tracking program that was developed to ensure compliance and track the ban's effect. I can't remember off the top of my head, but for several of those antibiotics that were never approved for animals, but were in humans, the resistance levels are higher in Denmark, then they are in the US where agriculture has been using them alongside human medicine. It appears as though many antibiotic resistance genes have no negative value in the absence of selective pressure, which goes a long way toward explaining the generally higher resistance levels in some EU member nations relative to the US.

      This is a very important and complex issue, and FUD articles like the IBTimes one are not helpful. They stir up the general populace to act without considering the evidence that already exists. The EU ban has not been effective at its stated goal of reducing resistance prevalence in the human population. I think that a ban that excludes the nursery phase would be more appropriate if not a complete repeal of the ban. But that's just based on my own interpretation of the scientific literature (as opposed to the financial literature, or populist literature). You can agree with me or not, it won't affect my research.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Guppy ( 12314 )

      The summary gets one thing wrong. Antibiotic resistant bacteria are not stronger than those that are nor antibiotic resistant. As a matter of fact they are weaker. Generally, the way that bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics is by shutting down the cellular mechanism that the antibiotic uses to get into the cell. However, that cellular mechanism serves a useful function in the cell (usually to bring nutrients into the bacterial cell). When antibiotic resistant bacteria are in an environment without antibiotics they generally die off over a relatively short time-span.

      Eh, "-1 Oversimplified".

      Loss-of-function or alterations of form are indeed one of of the possible mechanisms, and tends to be the more easily-evolved type, so you will often see those appear (and disappear) the fastest. However, occasionally you see mutations that are "free" to the bug, and represent a genuine evolutionary advance that will stick around, possibly forever.

      Outside of this, resistance mechanisms are mostly plasmid-encoded factors for things such as antibiotic-degrading enzymes, efflux pumps,

  • Some info (Score:4, Insightful)

    by geekoid ( 135745 ) <`dadinportland' `at' `'> on Friday October 01, 2010 @12:57PM (#33761228) Homepage Journal

    1) the animals use a very low, non therapeutic dose, most of which is lost in their waste.
    2) there isn't any good evidence that this causes superbugs. Yes, intuitively it seems so, and there may be a mechanisim in place, and it really wouldn't surprise anyone if this turned out to be the case, but no study backs any of that up.
    3) it is now that the over use of therapeutic doses causes this issue.
    4) not all bugs become superbugs
    5) superbug doesn't mean more virulent.

    We need to understand the precise mechanism on how the antibiotics work for growth. The exact chemical reaction. Then we can produce more specific drugs.

    We should be using the Swedish model. Slightly less product per animal. I I don't think a 1% increase in meat costs is going to be a big deal to any individual persons budget

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by tpjunkie ( 911544 )
      1) This is precisely the "best" possible way to induce antibiotic resistance. You are basically selecting out the bacteria which are able to tolerate low doses of antibiotic, which are then able to outcompete their more susceptible brethren. The result is the "normal" gut flora of these farm animals now has a built in resistance to that particular antibiotic. 2) The gut flora of these animals is excreted in waste. The mechanisms by which super bugs are created is through transmission of plasmids, bacterioph
  • by Un pobre guey ( 593801 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @01:11PM (#33761516) Homepage
    This is not a bad example of the superstitious fallacy that market forces fix everything, and we should deregulate all markets because regulations only get in the way, blah blah blah. Feedlots exist because in the short term they are by far most efficient from the strict standpoint of profitability. They are monstrously inefficient overall because they externalize the costs of waste disposal, coliform contamination of meat, feed costs (corn, the favorite animal feed, is subsidized), high fat-content in the resulting meat (due to the use of corn instead of forage), etc. The public must bear these costs so that meat producers can enjoy a profitable business. The power of the market is largely a myth that exists mainly in academic discussions rather than in real life.
  • Since when... (Score:5, Informative)

    by crmarvin42 ( 652893 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @01:33PM (#33761966)
    is the International Business Times an authority on anything. I'd never even heard from them before today.

    Additionally, as someone with a doctorate in animal science and a researcher in the field, I have to say that the case against animal agriculture is overstated. No one will argue that they don't contribute, but the relative importance of antibiotic use in animals (that less than 1% of the population ever come into contact with while they are alive) relative to that of rampant, large-dose, antibiotic abuses in hospitals (You know where all of those sick people hang out, transferring infections back and forth) has never been ascertained empirically.

    First, the vast majority of the bacterial species that live in livestock are not capable of living in people. Therefore, the rate of resistance transfer from animal bacteria to human bacteria is relatively low. Evidence exists that these species can, and do transfer resistance gene between eachother. However, the majority of the evidence is "Resistance gene A is present in pig bacteria and human bacteria, and genes are essentially identical, therefore the gene came from animals!" This of course, completely ignores the possiblity that the gene arose to prominence in the human population and then was transferred to a pig via a farm worker that was a carrier. Talk about placing the cart in front of horse.

    Second, low levels of antibiotic use in the swine industry is usually only during the first month after weaning. Pigs are weaned at between 18 and 24 days on most farms in order to prevent the sow (aka "Mom") from transmitting certain diseases to the piglets that have little effect on adult animals, but can kill piglets very easily. At this age the maternal antibodies from the colostrum are starting to wear off, but the piglets own acquired immune system is not completely up to the task. Therefore the antibiotics buy the piglets time by reducing the overall microbial load in the intestine, and coincidentally increasing the efficiency of feed utilization (which is good for the environment). Many farms then discontinue the use of prophylactic, or growth promoting antibiotics because antibiotics cost money and feed costs can account for 60-70% of total production overhead. Expensive feed can drive you out of business in a hurry.

    Third, to all those bragging about being from the EU, where there is a total ban on prophylactic antibiotics a word of caution. The total amount of antibiotics used in EU agriculture is not actually lower than it was before the ban. The difference is that instead of giving antibiotics to prevent infection, and improve production they are now given to tread disease outbreaks that wouldn't of otherwise happened and to try and minimize reductions in production. Also, the antibiotics of most relevance to human medicine are not routinely used for growth promotion, but they are used to treat disease outbreaks. So, the total tonnage of antibiotics being administered has not really gone down (it did until they banned them in the nursery which was the last phase of the ban), and the antibiotics being used are MORE likely to also be used in human medicine. Bravo, talk about unintended consequences!

    Finally, I fail to see how this made the front page here. It is not the usual fare of geek (no computers anywhere), it is not actually news (this controversy has been around for at least a decade), this article contributed nothing new to the discussion (restates already rampant FUD), and the IBTimes are not exactly the NYTimes or LATimes. The only thing I can see in its favor is that it lets the ignorant "Organic" group say I told you so without any real technical points for those few of us in the field to respond to. The original article is link-bait, plain and simple and /. fell for it.


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