Thursday, September 29, 2011


It is a common knowledge that overuse of antibiotics can be harmful to the human beings and if penicillin the earliest discovered antibiotic is more or less useless to day, it is attributed to development of resistance by bacteria to its destructive potential through adaptation over a long period. Of course to day there are many so called broad spectrum antibiotics discovered during the last five decades with much more "fire power" than Penicillin and the need to evolve more of such drugs is necessitated by emergence through mutation strain variants that can adapt to many antibiotics in common use. Use of antibiotics by the meat and poultry industry in the US and other industrially advanced countries is frowned upon by consumer activists as well as pathologists because of the potential for many of the meat pathogens to develop resistance against these antibiotics through continuous use. Another aspect of this practice is the question regarding the necessity to use any antibiotics by the industry if adequate precautions are taken to ensure high degree of sanitation and hygiene during handling. The recent argument by the industry questioning the scientific basis of antibiotic resistance is unfortunate and flies against truth.

"Can you can stuff farm animals together by the thousands and dose them daily with antibiotics, without creating resistant pathogens that affect humans? Yes, of course you can, insists the meat industry. "Not only is there no scientific study linking antibiotic use in food animals to antibiotic resistance in humans, as the US pork industry has continually pointed out, but there isn't even adequate data to conduct a study," the National Pork Producers Council declared in a statement last week. According to the Pork Producers, a recent report from the Government Accounting Office confirms their view. But as Helena Bottemiller in Food Safety News and Tom Laskway on Gristshow, what the GAO is really saying is that regulators like the USDA meat-inspection service have done a lousy job of collecting data on factory-farm antibiotic use. The report states the case bluntly, right in the opening paragraph: HHS [Health and Human Services] and USDA have collected some data on antibiotic use in food animals and on resistant bacteria in animals and retail meat. However, these data lack crucial details necessary to examine trends and understand the relationship between use and resistance. … Without detailed use data and representative resistance data, agencies cannot examine trends and understand the relationship between use and resistance. So the GAO is chastising the oversight agencies for failing to collect good data; and the industry is pretending that the lack of good data implies the lack of an underlying problem. It would be funny if real people weren't dying from what the FDA calls "treatment failure" after being infected with pathogens that antibiotics would normally wipe out. Meanwhile, the GAO makes clear that factory farm antibiotic abuse does pose a threat to public health. The report states it in plain English: Unsanitary conditions at slaughter plants and unsafe food handling practices could allow these bacteria to survive on meat products and reach a consumer. Resistant bacteria may also spread to fruits, vegetables, and fish products through soil, well water, and water runoff contaminated by fecal matter from animals harboring these bacteria. If the bacteria are disease-causing, the consumer may develop an infection that is resistant to antibiotics. While US regulators dither and the meat industry treats their incompetence as vindication, a team of Danish, Australian, and Canadian researchers have brought forth damning evidence on the link between factory farming and resistance. For a study just published in Foodborne Pathogens and Disease, the team isolated strains of antibiotic-resistant E. coli found in humans and compared them with resistant strains found in pigs, poultry, and cattle. The result: Resistance in E. coli isolates from food animals (especially poultry and pigs) was highly correlated with resistance in isolates from humans. This supports the hypothesis that a large proportion of resistant E. coli isolates causing blood stream infections in people may be derived from food sources".

One of the critical issues is whether there is any need at all for using antibiotics by the industry when good manufacturing practices are observed. The suspicion that lurks behind such practices is that the industry wants to camouflage the bad quality of its products and sell low quality meat at high prices. How far this argument is true remains to be ascertained by the monitoring agencies of the governments concerned. There is some evidence to show that use of antibiotics is resorted to for increasing the profits of the industry because antibiotics loaded feeds are known to accelerate growth of poultry birds and increase the yield of meat. What ever be the reason, consumers cannot accept such large scale use of life saving drugs like antibiotics every day putting their lives in danger. It is shocking to realize that more than 80% of antibiotics consumed in the US is used up by the meat industry which goes to show the extent of danger posed by this bad industry practice.


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