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General News    H3'ed 2/25/09

Death on the Half Shell? MRSA at the Beach? Scientists Disclose Antibiotic Resistance

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Message Martha Rosenberg
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Global warming and our "absurd over-dependence on carbon-based fuels" is interconnected with the looming economic and national security crises said former US Vice President Al Gore to an overflow audience at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Chicago in February.

It's also connected to the rise in antibiotic resistant strains of deadly sea-born bacteria said scientists at the AAAS meeting whose theme was global warming this year.

Seafood collected from three locations on the US southeast coast showed striking levels of antibiotic resistant Vibrio parahaemolyticus, related to cholera and Vibrio vulnificus, which can kill in 72 hours, reported Ramunas Stephanauskas, PhD from the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Science in West Boothbay Harbor, ME at a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) sponsored event.

The increasing risk of Death on the Half Shell --the Vibrios showed resistance to most common antibiotics like aminoglycosides, tetracyclines and cephalosporins--is caused by a coastal water toxic soup of metal contamination and livestock runoff potentiated by global warming said Stephanauskas.

Nor do you want to bathe in the water, said Lisa Plano, MD a pediatrician and microbiologist with the University of Miami's Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine at the same workshop.

Research that Plano and her University of Miami colleagues conducted on public beaches that had no sewage source found adults and babies who started out MRSA and MSSA-free (Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus and Methicillin sensitive Staphylococcus aureus, respectively) ended up with the micro organisms in their bodies after exposure to sand and water!

Bacteria are developing resistance so quickly to the arsenal of human antibiotics, Plano began her lecture with a cartoon of "graduating" microbes being told by their teacher, "You are the next class; go out and succeed!"

Once confined to hospitals and medical settings, resistant bacteria are now rampant in schools, locker rooms and the community and complicating treatment of HIV, TB, campylobacter and diseases seen in returning Iraq war veterans said presenters.

The chief cause of antibiotic resistance is agricultural use of antibiotics on factory farms to promote animal growth and "prevent disease" say most science groups including the Cambridge, MA-based Union of Concerned Scientists which was present at the AAAS meeting.

But weeks after announcing a ban on the widely used antibiotic cephalosporin last summer, the FDA quietly reversed its decision after getting a trough full from agribusiness and pharma.

Even the hearings on the Hill in September sponsored by the Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy and Poultry flew under the public's radar. They were termed a "review" of "advances in animal health within the livestock industry." Advances? Hello?

Still the assemblage of reps from the egg, chicken, turkey, milk, pork and cattle industries-- and the Animal Health Institute which represents Monsanto, Pfizer, Dow, Bayer, Wyeth, Novartis et al--left no doubt who is creating the toxic soup.

Up to 70 percent of all dairy calves receive antibiotic-laced "milk replacer" and almost all mature dairy cows receive antibiotic-laced "dry cow treatments," admitted Dr. Robert D. Byrne, Senior Vice President, Scientific & Regulatory Affairs, National Milk Producers in his You're-Going-To Ban-WHAT? presentation to the government.

A little antibiotic never hurt anyone said Blair Van Zetten on behalf of United Egg Producers whose related hatcheries were caught by the FDA injecting antibiotics directly into eggs we eat. Or ate.

Raising turkeys without antibiotics "would increase the incidence of illness," whined Dr. Michael Ryblot, Director, Scientific & Regulatory Affairs, National Turkey Federation, who called a typical 227-acre turkey farm "small." And it would eat profits! More land would be needed if birds couldn't be crammed together and more food since animals "grow" with less on antibiotics, said Ryblot.

In fact, when you think of the extra crop land required to produce more food and the extra manure that would result, antibiotic-laced factory farming is downright ecological, he said.

Maybe he should have spoken at the AAAS global warming meeting.
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Martha Rosenberg is an award-winning investigative public health reporter who covers the food, drug and gun industries. Her first book, Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health, is distributed by (more...)

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