Before the discovery of antibiotics, people could and did die from a simple cut warned Dr. Sameer Patel, an infectious disease specialist at Lurie Children's Hospital in Chicago not too long ago--and those days are returning.
Recently I caught up with Senior Staff Scientist at Consumers Union Dr. Michael Hansen to ask how the 2013 FDA guidance on antibiotic resistance, which asked drug companies selling antibiotics to farms to voluntarily change the approved uses on their labels was working out. Livestock operators use antibiotics by the ton to make animals gain weight with less feed.
The new FDA guidance caused Pharma companies who make antibiotics for livestock to remove "growth production" from the approved use on their labels, he told me, but the companies have largely just replaced the approved use with "disease prevention" and are still routinely using the drugs.
One chilling example of how the label change has not removed antibiotics is seen in feedlots, said Dr. Hansen. Feeding cattle grain instead of a more natural diet produces a high level of liver abscesses, he said and feedlot operators routinely give them the antibiotic Tylosin for the abscesses thus "preventing disease." Tylosin reduces abscess incidence by 40 to 70 percent in such cattle according to medical journals.
Investigations by Consumer Reports reveal that U.S. meat is full of "pathogens, commensals and antibiotic resistant bacteria" regardless of the meat's source, Dr. Hansen told me-- including producers who advertise as being antibiotic-free! A stellar example of such contaminated poultry was the mega poultry producer Foster Farms who was linked to a 29-state outbreak of drug-resistant Salmonella Heidelberg several years ago, Dr. Hansen told us. Six-hundred and thirty-four people were sickened and federal lawmakers urged that the operations be shut down. Pork tested by Consumer Reports also contained five resistant bacteria strains.
Reaction from Congresswoman Louise M. Slaughter, to the guidance was swift. It was "an inadequate response to the growing antibiotic resistant crisis caused by overuse of antibiotics on the farm," said her office--also pointing out that industry has spent over $17 million to block the Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act of 2007 which Rep. Slaughter and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy promoted. "It seems scarcely believable that these precious medications could be fed by the ton to chickens and pigs," wrote Kennedy in the bill, noting that up to 70 percent of all U.S. antibiotics go to livestock.
A University of Iowa study in 2010 found MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) in 70 percent of hogs on farms studied and 64 percent of workers; resistant infections have even been found on an unopened soft drink can in a car following a poultry truck. Ninety-three percent of doctors worry about the meat industry's excessive use of antibiotics.