Skip to main content

A broad-based global coalition of consumer groups is demanding a reduction in the amount of antibiotics used on industrial farms, which are being blamed for a rise in superbugs:

A group of multinational consumer organizations has come together to demand that governments impose tighter controls on the use of antibiotics in food animals.

Last week in Brussels the Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD), a forum for European and American consumer advocates, approved a resolution calling on countries to ban the non-therapeutic use of farm animal antibiotics.

Antibiotics are given to farm animals for three reasons -- either to treat an existing illness, prevent future diseases, or to promote growth.

Scientists have expressed concern that the widespread use of antibiotics on farms is contributing to bacterial resistance to these drugs, which poses a threat to human health.

We are fast approaching a “doomsday scenario” whereby antibiotic-resistant superbugs dominate the landscape, reports Independent columnist Johann Hari:

Many of the world's scientists are warning that one of the mightiest weapons doctors have against sickness is being rendered useless – so a few people can get richer, for a while. If they aren't stopped soon, the World Health Organisation warns we are facing "a doomsday scenario of a world without antibiotics". It will be a world where transplant surgery is impossible. It will be a world where a simple appendix operation will be as routinely lethal as it was in 1927, before the discovery of penicillin. It will be a world where pneumonia and TB and gonorrhea are far harder to deal with, and claim many more of us. But it's a world that you and I don't have to see – if we act on this warning now.

As the scientists I've interviewed explain it, antibiotics do something simple. They kill, slow down or stall the growth of bacteria. They were one of the great advances of the 20th century, and they have saved millions of us. But they inherently contain a problem – one that was known about from very early on. They start an arms race. Use an antibiotic against bacteria, and it kills most of it – but it can also prompt the bacteria to evolve a tougher, stronger, meaner strain that can fight back. The bacteria is constantly mutating and dividing. The stronger the antibiotic, the stronger some bacteria will become to survive. It's Darwin dancing at super-speed.

Antibiotic use has soared in the U.K., where a new type of MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) was identified in cow milk:

The use of modern antibiotics on British farms has risen dramatically in the past decade, fuelling the development of resistant organisms and weakening the power of human medicine to cure disease.

Three classes of antibiotics rated as "critically important in human medicine" by the World Health Organisation – cephalosporins, fluouroquinolones and macrolides – have increased in use by up to eightfold in the animal population over the past decade.

Over the same period, livestock numbers have fallen, by 27 per cent in the case of pigs, 10 per cent for cattle and 11 per cent for poultry. Experts say intensive farming, with thousands of animals reared in cramped conditions driven by price pressure imposed by the big supermarket chains, means infections spread faster and the need for antibiotics is greater. The widespread use of antibiotics in livestock farming is recognised as a major contributor to the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Last month British scientists identified a new type of MRSA in milk, the first time the resistant organism had been found in farm animals in the UK.

MRSA is responsible for 19,000 deaths in the U.S. each year:

MRSA, short for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, describes strains of staph that have become resistant to most common antibiotics. It’s been gaining ground on us for about 50 years, first in hospitals, then in the everyday world and now in farm animals and farm-workers. Surveillance for it is not excellent, but in various studies, it kills 19,000 Americans, puts about 370,000 in the hospital, and sends possibly 7 million to a primary care visit or ER, and causes billions of additional dollars in health care spending — all in a year. For the most serious infections, there are only a few drugs that still work. It’s the leading organism in the under-appreciated international epidemic of antibiotic resistance.

Livestock-associated MRSA — many researchers just call it “pig MRSA,” which makes swine agriculture very unhappy, but the more technical term is MRSA ST398 — was first noted in 2004 in a Dutch toddler being prepped for surgery; then identified in her family and their social circle, all of whom were pig farmers; and then was found in their pigs. Along with the standard suite of MRSA resistance factors — all the beta-lactam antibiotics, which means anything ending in “-illin,” most cephalosporins, the monobactams and carbepenems, and also erythromycin — this new strain was resistant to tetracycline.

A few brave Senators have introduced a bill to limit the use of antibiotics in animal feed:

A bipartisan group of senators re-introduced a bill late last week aimed at preserving the effectiveness of medically important antibiotics by limiting their use in food animal feed. In the face of the rising threat of antibiotic resistance, public health experts and activists have pushed for regulation to limit the subtherapeutic use of antibiotics in animal agriculture.

Recent estimates indicate around 80 percent of all antibiotics in the U.S. are given to food animals.

House-led fundamentalist TEA-hadists are waging an all-out war on science, which includes blowing up efforts to address the obvious link between germ-resistant bugs and overuse of antibiotics:

Even the FDA issued its own finding on the problem back in 1977. Yet despite laws that compel the agency to act on its own findings when they show a practice poses a risk to human health, the FDA has failed to protect Americans from this threat. As Nicholas Kristof wrote in The New York Times last week, "While the terrorist attacks of 2001 led us to transform the way we approach national security, the deaths of almost twice as many people annually have still not generated basic food-safety initiatives."

Industry pushback has appeared to paralyze the agency. In the 1980s, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees both requested that FDA delay its action on antibiotics because, they claimed, the science remained unclear. And the same faulty argument continues to be used today: Earlier this month, House Republicans attached a rider to the 2012 agriculture spending bill that would prevent the FDA from restricting antibiotics in healthy livestock, because some lawmakers claim the agency is not using sound science. The science on the issue has only gotten stronger since the 1970s.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site