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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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  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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.

  • buy organic (Score:2, Informative)

    by t2t10 ( 1909766 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @12:26PM (#33760624)
    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 should also probably avoid genetically modified animals, foods, and feeds, not because the genetic modifications are harmful (usually they are not), but because many genetic modifications are intended just to enable bad and dangerous farming practices. Both of these are in your own interest (not just socially good things to do) because you yourself may run a higher risk of infection with a resistant strain if you eat animals raised on antibiotics.
  • Re:Growth? What? (Score:2, Informative)

    by t2t10 ( 1909766 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @12:33PM (#33760788)
    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 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @12:34PM (#33760792) Homepage
    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:buy organic (Score:2, Informative)

    by ThatOtherGuy435 ( 1773144 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @12:43PM (#33760962)

    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.

  • by TheLink ( 130905 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @12:44PM (#33760974) Journal
    <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 bacteria and gunk from all chickens...
  • by llZENll ( 545605 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @12:46PM (#33761004)

    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 market of buying is the uneducated, and getting this message to them is very hard.

  • by maxume ( 22995 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @12:50PM (#33761086)

    The USDA prohibits feeding mammal tissues to ruminants.

    That still leaves them room to feed chicken to cattle though.

  • Re:Growth? What? (Score:3, Informative)

    by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @12:51PM (#33761116) Homepage

    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 cringe ... mad cow came from feeding sheep-parts (brains) to the cows (herbivores) for instance to put more protein in their diet. The prions in the sheep brain crossed into the cow in a way that would never have happened without people intervening -- when was the last time you saw a bunch of cows standing around the carcass of a sheep?

    Small scale farming (the way it was done for thousands of years) didn't have these problems because the conditions were different. Yes, cows could still get sick, and probably did. But, people weren't putting them in unsanitary conditions and feeding them part of other animals.

    The antibiotics help to mitigate (in a non-specific way) some of the effects.

  • by defro ( 857858 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @12:58PM (#33761240)
    Speaking of hippies, I stopped by my token hippy friend's place the other day and they were watching this documentary about food. It was called Food Inc. and after literally the first 5 minutes, I planted myself on the couch and watched it. I always knew our (ie. us Westerners) diet was pretty bad, but I really had no idea HOW bad the food system is. We're basically eating crap 24/7.

    Long story short, I've been reading up about this topic lately and can suggest a few easily accessible resources for anyone who wants to learn a bit more:
    Food Inc. - A decent documentary to get you started.
    The Omnivores Dilemma - An easy read that can point in the right direction for further research.
  • Re:Buy organic (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 01, 2010 @01:02PM (#33761348)

    Actually "organic" has a clear definition, particularly in the realm of the food industry.

    The United States passed legislation defining what "Organic" actually means back in 2002.

    I'm not sure exactly how it applies to meat, however products that say they are "Organic" need to be made with 95% organic ingredients. I tried to look up exactly what organic meat was through through the USDA website however didn't make much progress.

    I do know however that the certification process to be classified as organic is a pretty serious thing to go through. I've heard it is cost prohibitive to smaller farms.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Re:Some info (Score:3, Informative)

    by tpjunkie ( 911544 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @01:35PM (#33762006) Journal
    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, bacteriophages, and naked DNA uptake, which many species of bacteria are capable of. (For a new fun threat, see [] ) 3) There is no "therapeutic dose" for healthy animals. Antibiotics are given to animals to increase the rate at which they absorb food. The "normal" state of the lamina propria and mucosa of the gut is a constant state of low level inflammation, which serves as a protection from any bugs that manage to work their way out of the lumen of the gut. Antibiotic use lowers the amount of gut flora, likely leading to a reduction in this inflammation that results in greater absorption of food. I am not aware of a conclusive proof of this, but animals raised in sterile conditions and fed sterilized food support this hypothesis in terms of weight gain and histologic appearance of gut tissue. 4) You don't need all bugs to become super bugs. The majority of bacteria can become much more virulent and resistant to antibiotics. It really only takes one or two, and there are nearly innumerable options that live happily as commensals in either our or other species guts. 5) This is true, but it's not really going to cheer up someone whose opportunistic infection is resistant to antibiotics. Anyway, see #3 for a good idea of the mechanism. It's not a chemical reaction, its a physiologic consequence. FWIW, I am a medical student finishing up microbiology.
  • by h4rr4r ( 612664 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @01:37PM (#33762034)

    Pork fat, pastry is made with lard. Not tallow. That would be horrible.

    Oh and stop using Crisco, that stuff sucks. Mix butter and lard 50/50 if you must.

  • by hoggoth ( 414195 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @02:00PM (#33762492) Journal

    We are both partially right. From []

    According to the National Office of Animal Health (NOAH, 2001), antibiotic growth promoters are used to "help growing animals digest their food more efficiently, get maximum benefit from it and allow them to develop into strong and healthy individuals". Although the mechanism underpinning their action is unclear, t is believed that the antibiotics suppress sensitive populations of bacteria in the intestines. It has been estimated that as much as 6 per cent of the net energy in the pig diet could be lost due to microbial fermentation in the intestine (Jensen, 1998). If the microbial population could be better controlled, it is possible that the lost energy could be diverted to growth.

    Thomke & Elwinger (1998) hypothesize that cytokines released during the immune response may also stimulate the release of catabolic hormones, which would reduce muscle mass. Therefore a reduction in gastrointestinal infections would result in the subsequent increase in muscle weight. Whatever the mechanism of action, the result of the use of growth promoters is an improvement in daily growth rates between 1 and 10 per cent resulting in meat of a better quality, with less fat and increased protein content. There can be no doubt that growth promoters are effective; Prescott & Baggot (1993), however, sho ed that the effects of growth promoters were much more noticeable in sick animals and those housed in cramped, unhygienic conditions.

    Currently, there is controversy surrounding the use of growth promoters for animals destined for meat production, as overuse of any antibiotic over a period of time may lead to the local bacterial populations becoming resistant to the antibiotic. This is it not an invariable rule: Streptococcus pyogenes remains sensitive to penicillins after over sixty years of clinical use but such examples are, however, very rare. Undoubtedly, the medical exploitation of antimicrobial chemotherapy, particularly to treat human infections, has imposed an enormous selection pressure on formerly sensitive bacteria to acquire genetic elements that code for resistance to antibiotics.

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

    by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @02:23PM (#33762886) Journal

    >>>Spanish Influenza pandemic (1918) killed more people than the Bubonic Plague did in four, from 1347 to 1351.

    It's all relative. The 1918 flu killed 3% of the population while the 1348 Black Death killed 45% of Europe and 20% of the world. If WE were hit by some disease with the same mortality as the 1348 bubonic, then 1400 million people would be dead. - Or if it had the same localized impact as it had in 1348, killing 45% of a continent, then 200 million North Americans would need to be buried

  • by Guppy ( 12314 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @02:26PM (#33762954)

    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, and other such defenses. The evolutionary cost for these can range from very high to trivially low, depending (does your enzyme soak up lots of resources to make, or is it highly efficient? Is it permanently switched on, or does it come with an induction mechanism that only triggers when appropriate?). In addition, many bacteria can swap plasmids around, allowing for more genetic versatility.

    So the short answer is, that there is no short answer. How fast resistance disappears when antibiotics are no longer used, will depend on each particular situation. However, over time quick-and-dirty solutions will tend to be replaced by more evolutionarily elegant adaptations.

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

    by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Friday October 01, 2010 @03:18PM (#33763678) Homepage Journal

    Influenza is a viral infection, not a bacteriological one. Antibiotics will do absolutely nothng against a viral disease.

  • by morari ( 1080535 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @04:13PM (#33764384) Journal

    That's not how survival of the fittest works though. ;)

  • Re:Is this a news? (Score:3, Informative)

    by inviolet ( 797804 ) <> on Friday October 01, 2010 @05:03PM (#33764984) Journal

    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. The physicians in attendance made the obvious objection, and naturally were ignored in favor of the farms' colossal political power. Yee-haw, full speed ahead!

  • Re:no shocker (Score:3, Informative)

    by Raenex ( 947668 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @06:43PM (#33766042)

    They believe in small scale evolution (the electricity), but they don't believe in large scale evolution where a single-cell organism has evolved into all the species that you see today. At least, not based on purely random mutation. It's kind of hard to repeat that in the lab.

  • Re:Buy organic (Score:4, Informative)

    by stonewallred ( 1465497 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @07:21PM (#33766400)
    Fuck that. Take a few cigarettes, break off the filters and drop them into a bottle of water for about two or three days. Spray some of that water upon the bug of your choosing. Watch as the bug goes into a long, painful looking death spasm, imagining the agony as its body is poisoned. And what amazes me is that I use this mixture on some plants I grow in order to control mites, and I still smoke a pack or two a day.
  • Re:no shocker (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 02, 2010 @05:52AM (#33769210)

    OT, but evolution deniers usually only deny evolution of "complex" features; what constitutes "complex" is not entirely clear, but most of them have no problem with evolution of antibiotic resistance.

  • Re:Since when... (Score:3, Informative)

    by crmarvin42 ( 652893 ) on Saturday October 02, 2010 @11:57AM (#33770474)
    Most of my recent experience is with pigs, and broiler chickens, but I did work on a couple of small to medium sized dairies as an undergraduate. On intensive dairies, the cows live in a free stall barn usually. They consist of 1 or 2 ally's flanked by rows of stalls. The stalls are elevated about a foot or 2 above the floor, are padded (ground up tires cover with thick canvas and fresh wood shavings replaced periodically), and allow the cows to comfortably lie down without laying in shit. On one wall is a headlock system where the cows can poke their heads through to reach the feed. The headlocks prevent one cow from pushing another cow away from the feeder, and can be set to hold the cows in place when they need medical treatment. At the end of the ally's is a large open space that lead to the milking parlor (of which there are multiple designs, each with benefits and drawbacks of their own) which they enter for milking. They are fed and milked 2 to 3 times a day. Dry cows and replacement heifers are kept separate from the milking animals because their nutritional needs are so different so they just have a free stall barn without the milking parlor.

    Beef can be raised out on the range, in free stall barns, or in feedlots. I have little direct experience there, so I can't tell you much more detail. However, I can be certain that their conditions are not as abhorent as most people believe because the stress of poor environment inhibits animal growth, production, and quality. Bad farmers put themselves out of business the next time prices drop.

"Hey Ivan, check your six." -- Sidewinder missile jacket patch, showing a Sidewinder driving up the tail of a Russian Su-27