Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Pigs and Public Health

via wikipedia
 Well, it could be any animal raised in massive numbers, really. But the report released by PNAS as about pigs. Particularly about antibiotic use and antibiotic resistant genes. The report is titled Diverse and abundant antibiotic resistance genes in Chinese swine farms, and the abstract reads:
Antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) are emerging contaminants posing a potential worldwide human health risk. Intensive animal husbandry is believed to be a major contributor to the increased environmental burden of ARGs. Despite the volume of antibiotics used in China, little information is available regarding the corresponding ARGs associated with animal farms. We assessed type and concentrations of ARGs at three stages of manure processing to land disposal at three large-scale (10,000 animals per year) commercial swine farms in China. In-feed or therapeutic antibiotics used on these farms include all major classes of antibiotics except vancomycins. High-capacity quantitative PCR arrays detected 149 unique resistance genes among all of the farm samples, the top 63 ARGs being enriched 192-fold (median) up to 28,000-fold (maximum) compared with their respective antibiotic-free manure or soil controls. Antibiotics and heavy metals used as feed supplements were elevated in the manures, suggesting the potential for coselection of resistance traits. The potential for horizontal transfer of ARGs because of transposon-specific ARGs is implicated by the enrichment of transposases—the top six alleles being enriched 189-fold (median) up to 90,000-fold in manure—as well as the high correlation (r2 = 0.96) between ARG and transposase abundance. In addition, abundance of ARGs correlated directly with antibiotic and metal concentrations, indicating their importance in selection of resistance genes. Diverse, abundant, and potentially mobile ARGs in farm samples suggest that unmonitored use of antibiotics and metals is causing the emergence and release of ARGs to the environment.
The problem is that regulation and research haven't kept pace with the explosion of  IFAPs (Industrial Food Animal Production) and  the techniques they use to speed the production line of animal flesh. Canada, Europe, and America are in the same boat here; in the US about 80% of antibiotics are used for animal production--usually in sub-clinical doses which seem expressly designed to breed resistant bacteria.
Thankfully, there is a solution. Politically unpalatable, perhaps, certainly not one that will thrill everybody. But one that looks a lot better than losing drug treatments for infections. And that is going organic. Industrial chicken farms that go organic have significantly lower levels of resistant bacteria according to an article in Environmental Health Perspectives. From the abstract:
The percentages of resistant Enterococcus faecalis and resistant Enterococcus faecium were significantly lower (p < 0.05) among isolates from newly organic versus conventional poultry houses for two (erythromycin and tylosin) and five (ciprofloxacin, gentamicin, nitrofurantoin, penicillin, and tetracycline) antimicrobials, respectively. Forty-two percent of E. faecalis isolates from conventional poultry houses were multidrug resistant (MDR; resistant to three or more antimicrobial classes), compared with 10% of isolates from newly organic poultry houses (p = 0.02); 84% of E. faecium isolates from conventional poultry houses were MDR, compared with 17% of isolates from newly organic poultry houses (p < 0.001).
Conclusions: Our findings suggest that the voluntary removal of antibiotics from large-scale U.S. poultry farms that transition to organic practices is associated with a lower prevalence of antibiotic-resistant and MDR Enterococcus.
So, smaller operations run on organic principles with resultant lower meat consumption and higher prices equals a better world. Or, you know, just raise a couple of chickens in your backyard.

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