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Washington Post Calls for More Action on Antibiotics

Another newspaper has weighed into the debate over antibiotics in agriculture. In a piece titled “Meat and ‘superbugs,'” the Washington Post editorial board argued for “a more concerted effort” from industry, regulators and scientists to help combat antibiotic resistance.

The article, published in Sunday’s paper, follows last week’s editorial in the journal Nature and adds to a long list of media outlets that have advocated for stronger limits on antibiotics.

As the Post notes in its editorial, approximately 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the United States are given to food animals — and of that, around two thirds are “similar or identical to drugs used in human medicine.”

“Most of them go to make healthy animals grow faster and stay well, often in difficult and crowded conditions,” read the editorial. “Giving antibiotics to sick animals is proper, but questions continue to be raised about the wisdom of distributing antibiotics in their feed and water supplies to whole flocks and herds for growth-enhancing and prophylactic purposes.”

The Post breezes over the usual argument from both sides: Industry says that there is only a minute chance that antibiotic usage on farms will pose a health risk to humans. Public health advocates and many scientists have argued otherwise for decades.

“[C]ritics are pointing to fresh studies that suggest that antibiotics in agriculture do contribute to the growth of drug resistance and that the bacteria can make their way back to humans through food or the environment.”

The editorial notes Consumer Reports’ latest campaign to pressure retailers into only selling antibiotic-free meat and poultry.

“We think that consumers ought to make their own choices, and for that they need proper labels,” the editorial continues. “But industry and regulators face more complex problems. They can’t just ban antibiotics, which are a vital tool in medicine, and big changes would be needed in agricultural practices in the United States for farming operations to survive without them.”

The Post notes that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently called on farmers to be “judicious” in their antibiotics use — and the agency’s definition of judicious does not include promoting growth or feed efficiency. Meanwhile, a bill by Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) to ban subtherapeutic uses of medically-important antibiotics has failed to advance. The European Union enacted similar legislation in 2006.

“The evidence is overwhelming that bacteria are evolving in ways that make many antibiotic drugs less useful,” adds the editorial. “Overuse of antibiotics in agriculture is not the only reason, but it is a significant part of the equation.”

© Food Safety News
  • doc raymond

    i am happy to see that the Post finally admitted that nearly half of the 80% of antibiotics used in animals are not used in human medicine. Now if they would only follow up and state very clearly what percentage of antibiotics used both in human and animal medicine are medicines of importance to human health. After you write of tetracycline, neomycin and erythromycin as insignificant, you really don’t see much use and abuse in animal health care that is of importance to me. Of more importance is the inappropriate prescribing habits of health care providers in human medicine, and inability by patients to properly complete a full course of treatment. (BTW, I include myself in the overprescribing category)

  • Minkpuppy

    Doc,
    I’m probably a victim of overprescribing doctors. Just went through sinus surgery and spent a total of 5 weeks on levoquin prior to and after the surgery. Plus an antibiotic ointment to use in my nose while I was healing up. I did the full course of both as required but I feel like it was probably overkill. I want this stuff to work on me in the future if I get deathly ill, not just a standard sinus infection.

  • doc raymond that’s not what the Post wrote, and since I’ve seen you write other comments, I feel comfortable in saying you know this isn’t true.
    As the Post writes, and others have written, 80% of antibiotics sold are used for livestock purposes.
    More importantly, there is now more evidence that the incorrect use of antibiotics with livestock is leading to drug resistant bacteria.
    This is not acceptable.

  • Ted

    Doc Raymond is exactly right. Exactly.
    Heh, while you agriculture-hating fools are flailing around blindly crucifying farms the breaking news is in India.
    http://health.usnews.com/health-news/managing-your-healthcare/treatment/articles/2011/04/07/antibiotic-resistant-bacteria-in-india-could-spread-experts-say
    http://www.sikhphilosophy.net/health-and-nutrition/31835-emergence-new-antibiotic-resistance-mechanism-india.html
    Wise up now: that’s how you grow an antibiotic-resistant human pathogen – in humans, not pigs or gerbils or goldfish. With nary a CAFO in sight the Indians have succeeded in brewing up for real the dreadful boogieman bug you hate-twisted anti-agriculture alarmists can only conjure up in your contorted imaginations.
    Let’s get abuse of antibiotics by humans in humans under control. That’s where the real risk lurks.

  • keen observer

    Suggestion for commenter Shelley: how ’bout we won’t pretend to lecture you on how to compile Java script and you don’t presume to tell us how to practice medical microbiology?
    Superficially opinionated blowhards, however concerned they may like to think they are, however strident their recitation of cult talking points, these misguided poseurs contribute nothing of substance to intelligent discussion of important scientific issues seated in pharmacology, epidemiology and microbiology.
    Mass hysteria is not acceptable.

  • Suggestion for Food Safety News: Consider incorporating Disqus or Facebook comments.
    keen observer: you’re not refuting what I’m saying, you’re just indulging in puerile insults. Tell me: what part of your comment do you think will generate your hoped for outcome?
    Especially considering the fact that you don’t “compile” JavaScript?

  • K dog

    Antibiotics should be used rarely for humans or animals. That is just common sense.

  • Webster

    Touche, Keen Obs., touche.
    Shelley rankles at even a hint of amateur interference in her field of expertise (computer Java something or other). She misses the point completely about the inappropriateness of her own amateur intrusion into medical science. Truly, that is the hallmark of the self-interested ideologue. We had little doubt what we were dealing with in Shelley and her ilk, but now we know with certainty.

  • Jim

    There goes our Keen Troll, Ted Mudd practicing the standard Ad Hominem railings against good, honest commenters, while purposefully obfuscating the issues with more disinformation.
    Meanwhile the other Doc is ignoring the fact that antibiotic resistance is being transmitted between lesser used classes of antibiotics by the bacteria themselves. Good luck with that.

  • Brady

    Hey “Jim” — you’re incorrectly/disingenuously charging “Ad Hominem” here.
    Ad hominem would be, for example, if Keen Observer asserted Shelley’s superficial opinion regarding details of medical microbiology is irrelevant because she writes crappy dangerous computer code. It is entirely relevant, however, for Keen to correctly point out Shelley knows nothing of what she is talking about here due to her utter lack of credentials or practical experience in medical science. If she isn’t merely regurgitating canned talking points then she is making up simple-minded nonsense as she goes along. By way of further example, it would perhaps be ad hominem to openly suspect she writes buggy computer programs with a similarly bombastic reckless callous attitude.
    Hmmm, “troll”, Jim?….now that’s getting over into ad hominem territory. But we all know crying “troll” is the equivalent of crying “uncle”. Game – set – match.

  • Jim, I’m actually using Ted/keene like comments as a gauge–the more virulent the comment, the more on-target I feel my comments to be.
    It’s just unfortunate that the Ted/keen like comments clutter up what can be really interesting, thoughtful discussions.

  • Terry Ward

    We would like to ask The Scientists Formerly Known as Farmboys posting here if ‘antibiotics’ fall into the category of ‘Customer Choice’?

  • Brady/Ted/keene/et al, then show me where I’m wrong.
    If I’m wrong about what I write, provide specifics about how I’m wrong. Add links to references to back up what you say. Bring an actual argument, if you have one.
    When you attack the commenter, all you’re doing is demonstrating you have nothing tangible in the way of a counter-argument.
    This grows dull. Moving on. See you, I guess, in the next FSN discussion.

  • Minkpuppy

    Shelley, Doc Raymond is absolutely correct. There are very few antibiotics of human importance used in livestock. The majority used are approved for livestock only.
    Overuse/abuse of antibiotics in human medicine is real. I know people that run to the doctor and demand antibiotics for the common cold. Colds are caused by viruses which are completely unaffected by antibiotics. But doctors prescribe them anyway “just in case” the cold turns into a bacterial infection. The kid (or adult)feels better in a couple of days (which they would anyway since it’s a COLD) so they declare that the antibiotics worked and quit taking them. So next time, they do the same dang thing. They don’t really need the antibiotics–a placebo would probably work as well without setting up a nice little incubator for resistance.
    I’ve been on levoquin more times than I can count in the last 2 years for sinus infections. Usually, I’m the type that won’t go to the doctor unless I’m running a high fever and half dead so you know it was bad if I went. I hate taking antibiotics. Levoquin is the drug of last resort when z-paks and cipro don’t work anymore. How long before the levoquin quits working for me? I hope I never find out. This dang sinus surgery better fix the dang problem.
    Most strains of MRSA arose out of human medicine and has been passed to livestock. The NT-MRSA strain found in swines is a relatively new thing. It could be a mutated version of the regular old MRSA but until more research is done it would not be prudent to accuse livestock antibiotics. Bacteria are very good at swapping genes and so are viruses. Pigs are typically the mixing vessel for bird flu and human flu so other diseases aren’t a stretch there.
    Antibiotic resistant tuberculosis in humans almost certainly did not arise from the livestock industry. It came about because asymptomatic and symptomatic TB carriers don’t finish their courses of antibiotics. It’s a long treatment, somewhere in the neighborhood of 6 months and it’s dang hard to get them to comply. Combine that with conditions like those in India where folks can’t always get their medicines and you’ve got the perfect recipe for resistance. The bacteria that causes human TB originated in cattle, but the resistance did not. Human to human transmission is much more common that cattle to human, especially in the US. Cattle here are slaughtered immediately when they test positive for TB. The meat cannot be used unless the spores are destroyed first. That eliminates the bovine-human connection entirely in the US and developed countries. Can’t blame the cows for TB resistance in that case.
    And Brady, it most certainly is “troll” behavior to slam opposing beliefs in lieu of making a valid point. Ted finally did get to his point but only after calling certain readers “agriculture-hating fools”. How many folks do you think really treated his links with critical thinking after reading that?
    There are readers on here with legitimate concerns. Let’s try talking to them politely instead of insulting them for not agreeing with us OK? Heaven forbid, we should actually learn something from each other.
    But Trolls will be trolls as long as you keep feeding them. Ignore them and don’t encourage them.

  • MinkPuppy, thank you for the thoughtful response.
    My criticism of Doc’s comment was less about his statement that antibiotic resistant bacteria is the result of abuse by humans, and more what he stated the Post wrote.
    I can agree that humans have used antibiotics excessively in the last several years, and this could be a major factor in antibiotic resistant superbugs. Perhaps it is the primary factor.
    Your explanation about the antibiotic resistant TB is both lucid and compelling and, bluntly, makes sense. Even to a non-microbiologists like myself 😉
    At the same time, studies have also tracked the development of superbugs directly attributable to the use of antibiotics with livestock:
    http://mbio.asm.org/content/3/1/e00305-11
    The risk of these superbugs is such that I don’t think we can gamble that the cause is solely due to human acts; especially when there are changes in livestock practices that can greatly reduce the need for antibiotics.
    And point taken on trolls.