Antibiotic Resistance

Monday, November 1st, 2010
Cow - Food Inc

Intensive farming is big business. Demand outstrips supply, and with this comes not only growing produce out of season but also in huge quantities. To achieve this often requires growth hormones and antibiotics, which can cause many animals to be overdeveloped and deformed, in order to produce more milk or appear plumper. This has been highlighted in the wonderful work that Hugh Fernley Whittingstall has done with his Chicken Out Campaign and Jamie Oliver did with pig farming.

Antibiotics have saved millions of lives and revolutionised medicine, however most are not used to save lives. In human medicine we have used them too much for minor problems and in intensive livestock production they are still primarily used to compensate for crowded and unnatural conditions on factory farms.

Many scientists now acknowledge that by using antibiotics unnecessarily we encourage the rapid spread of antibiotic-resistant infections. It has long been known that overuse of antibiotics on factory farms leads to antibiotic resistance in food poisoning bacteria, like salmonella. But in the last two years, scientific evidence has also implicated intensive farming in the rise of two serious super bugs: a new strain of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in farm animals, which is spreading rapidly and transferring to humans, and a new and almost untreatable type of E.coli that is causing large numbers of deaths in the UK and elsewhere, especially among the elderly. Farm-animal MRSA is spreading on intensive farms in continental Europe. In the Netherlands it already affects 39% of pigs and almost 50% of pig farmers. In Dutch hospitals 25% of all MRSA cases are now caused by the farm animal strain, and farmers are no longer permitted in general wards without prior screening. It has been found in chickens, dairy cows and calves and in 20% of pork, 21% of chicken and 3% of beef. It has also been found in farm animals and people in Germany and Denmark, from which we import large quantities of pork.


Human Health Concerns

The overuse of non-therapeutic antibiotics in poultry, beef cattle and swine production poses a serious threat to human health. Because half of these antibiotics belong to classes of drugs used in human medicine, the risk of antibiotic resistance in humans is increased. This is especially threatening for people with compromised immune systems including infants, elderly people and patients with cancer receiving chemotherapy. Antibiotic resistance in humans is a tremendous public health threat worldwide.

The World Health Organization (WHO) held a conference on this ‘crisis’ and concluded that there is sufficient evidence showing that “the major transmission pathway for resistant bacteria...[is] from food animals to humans” and that this has led to “increased frequency of treatment failures (in some cases death) and increased severity of infections”. In their recommendations, the WHO specifically called for stricter legislation to minimise antimicrobial usage in agriculture because it is so prevalent and may pose a significant risk to human health.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria can be transmitted from animals to humans in several ways:

1) Environment: bacteria found in the animal manure can contaminate local waterways and groundwater

2) Food: people consume meat that contain antibiotic residues or has been contaminated with the resistant bacteria during slaughter

3) Direct contact: farmers and farm workers may become infected by the animals and pass it on to the family and community


A new type of resistance in E.coli, ESBL, has been spreading globally in recent years.  E.coli is a major cause of urinary-tract infections and blood poisoning. In the UK 5-10% of all urinary-tract infections caused by E.coli are now ESBLs. According to the Chief Medical Officer, those who contract this form have a 30% risk of dying. This type of antibiotic resistance has now been found on large numbers of farms in the UK and it is suspected that this is spreading to humans on food.

I, for one, am not happy eating hormone and antibiotic injected meat and poultry - it just doesn’t sit right with me. For all patients with any kind of hormonal problem, I always advise organic meat and poultry, eggs and cheese etc. As with pesticides, buy organic and free range where and when you can. However it’s all very well for those of us still with jobs, or those who prioritise health or who are informed, but what about the rest of the population? Good highly dense nutrient rich food should be available and affordable for everyone.

I think it’s a good idea to try and by the best food that you can afford. If you know you eat a lot of apples, make some organic at least. In my weekly food shop, produce like lettuce, potatoes and apples are organic, avocadoes, bananas and mangos are not. Not everything needs to be organic. You don’t really need organic tomato ketchup (unless you are against GM food in which case read the label) so use your money wisely.

If you would like further information please contact Kate on 01323 737814 / 722499