Yes, Antibiotics Used on Livestock Do Breed Drug-Resistant Bacteria That Infect Humans

By Veronique Greenwood | February 28, 2012 1:33 pm


The rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria has got many experts predicting a future in which currently tractable diseases, like tuberculosis, became untreatable again. The popularity of modern antibiotics, ironically, is what is leading to their downfall: antibiotics in consumer products, like soaps, as well as the excessive use of antibiotics by people who have no bacterial infections, help select for strains of bacteria that don’t respond to drugs. Factory-farmed livestock, which receive tremendous doses of antibiotics in their feed, are also a likely breeding ground for resistant bacteria that could potentially infect humans.

Proponents of factory farming have scoffed at such claims [pdf], but now, scientists have provided definitive evidence that this happens: through genetic analysis, they found that a strain of MRSA, already resistant to one family of drugs, had hopped from people to farmed pigs, acquired resistance to another antibiotic being fed to the pigs, and then leapt back into humans, taking its new resistance with it. That strain, called MRSA ST398 or CC398, is now causing 1 out of 4 cases of MRSA in some regions of the Netherlands [pdf], where it arose, and it has also been found across the Atlantic in nearly half of the meat in US commerce. After this strain arose in 2004, the European Union began a ban the use of antibiotics in livestock feed. In the United States, however, where most of the antibiotics in circulation are being used in farming, no such regulation exists.

[via Superbug and NPR]

Image courtesy of wattpublishing / flickr

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Living World
  • Shiva Steve Ordog

    This means that we could drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, dramatically increase food availability, and slow the mutation of superbugs by ending meat production and switching to plant based diets. Failing that, why is factory farming allowed? We, as a society, are directly subsidizing a dangerous direction. We need to change course.

  • Joe Marfice

    “… antibiotics in consumer products, like soaps, … help select for strains of bacteria that don’t respond to drugs.”

    My understanding was that antibiotic soap was not indicated by the data as having much of an effect on MRSA. Is there research (and not just “common sense”) to the contrary?

    Counterpoint to the article’s claim:

  • Geack

    @2. Small sample, loose study design (lots of leeway in the potential rates of noncompliance), authors themselves stated their sample was insufficiently diverse, and most importantly, their other finding was that there was no difference between the antibac soaps and regular soap.

    I agree that the author should maybe provide some references for the claims, but the study you cited was a very preliminary look at the topic and basically concluded there’s no reason to use antibac soap. Plus it doesn’t have anything to do with the main point of this article, which is about antibiotic use in animal feed.

  • Tim

    @Shiva Steve Ordog: There’s no reason to jump to even more bad science and suggest switching to a plant based diet, something we are have not evolved to healthily live on. No, veganism won’t kill you, but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy either.

    There are plenty of ways to humanely and naturally raise animals for food.


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