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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.

  • 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.
  • no shocker (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TheCarp ( 96830 ) <[ten.tenaprac] [ta] [cjs]> 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.


  • 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 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.

  • Re:no shocker (Score:2, Interesting)

    by llamapater ( 1542875 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @12:32PM (#33760752)
    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
  • Re:no shocker (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 01, 2010 @12:34PM (#33760790)

    Or perhaps those with enough money?
    Being in an unequal society, if a major bacteria goes around killing people, the rich will isolate themselves and have a lower death toll when compared to the common man simply due to the resources they have and nothing to do with overcoming the bacteria more than the common man.

    The idea of the survival of the fittest isn't quite the same in humanity due to having to factor in wealth into the equation.
    Personally, I'm a firm believer that wealth doesn't make one the fittest.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 01, 2010 @12:54PM (#33761186)

    I concur with this assessment. These people feed them all manner of antibiotics and steroids, and wonder why there are negative effects. We feed our livestock only non-GM feed that has not been treated, and they also eat bugs, grass etc., exactly what they are meant to feed on. Purely organic. The big producers are always messing with nature's way, and then when it goes wrong, they say, "wait, I have another hairbrained idea that MIGHT work." I won't eat that crap, and neither should you. BTW, ever wonder where moobs come from? Take a guess.

  • 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 Anonymous Coward on Friday October 01, 2010 @01:01PM (#33761310)


  • 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.
  • 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.

  • 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: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.
  • by h4rr4r ( 612664 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @01:33PM (#33761954)

    Including chicken litter, which may include undigested chicken feed, which includes mammal tissues. Producers voluntarily stopped using chicken litter as cattle feed recently, but could go back to using it at any time.

  • 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.

  • by Firethorn ( 177587 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @04:23PM (#33764506) Homepage Journal

    Until they mutate. Which is where they came from in the first place.

    Probably way back when multicellular life was just differentiating itself from other forms of proto-bacteria.

    The mutations necessary to be infectious in a mammal's cell versus a bacerial cell is just too extreme to be a credible threat.

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

    by Fantastic Lad ( 198284 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @06:49PM (#33766120)

    You bring up some valid points and your insight is an appreciated antidote to a poorly executed article.

    But (putting GM feed aside), there remains one big aspect about factory farms I cannot get past...

    Are the animals experiencing a quality of life which doesn't include standing around in shit?

    Then they are no longer animals. They are active meat cultures. They may not be stressed, but I know plenty of fat idiots who are generally not stressed either and their lives are also pathetic compared to free range humans. When driving past factory chicken farms, the air for a mile in every direction is filled with the stench of hell. Life existing the center of that hell may not be overly stressed, but it's still not the right place for living things. And I do imagine that egg laying chickens stacked in boxes, despite any efforts to mitigate their stress levels don't experience what one might call "sanguine" lives. Same goes for milking cows to a lesser degree, but only because you can't stack ruminants.

    I know this doesn't fit well into the question, "Well, how do you propose we feed all these people?" While there are better ways, better diets, and better means for managing populations of both humans and farm animals, the fact remains, we are where we are and it isn't pretty.

    So what can I do? Well, I eat free range and I know my farmers and I've met the herds and the birds. I'm satisfied that I'm not contributing unduly to lousy lives among our fellow creatures occupying this world. Can this scale up to meet the present needs of the planet? I doubt it. We're pretty much screwed as a population. But that doesn't mean I have to play along. I'm not going to cause needless misery and degradation if I can avoid it. And if everybody had cared enough from the outset, I'm sure we could have built a far better system which respected the creatures who feed us as they deserve.

    There's a ton of bad karma being generated and it will need to be paid back eventually. It always is.


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

    by jc42 ( 318812 ) on Friday October 01, 2010 @08:05PM (#33766754) Homepage Journal

    There was a story on /. here a few years ago about squirrels that look booth ways before crossing the road.

    Yeah, I've seen them doing that. Of course, since their eyes are on the sides of their heads, it's pretty easy for them. But you can see them looking around for things in the street.

    One of my favorite examples of short-term human-triggered evolution is in our lawn: Our neighborhood has mower-adapted dandelions. This has been reported in many cities, but rarely out in rural areas where mowers are much less common. What they do is form flowers on very short stems that are below the mower blades. Then, as the seeds ripen, the stem grows to the usual longer length, so the mover tears up the seed head and sends (some of) the seeds into the air and on their way. The seeds' little "parachutes" are also somewhat tougher than they used to be.

    There are lots of other example of wild critters, weeds, and parasites adapting quickly to human activity. The squirrel and dandelion adaptations are mostly funny illustrations. Bacterial adaptations to antibiotics aren't quite as entertaining.

Never buy what you do not want because it is cheap; it will be dear to you. -- Thomas Jefferson