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Superbugs and Other Nonsense

Opinion

In a recent Consumer Reports article entitled, “The high cost of cheap chicken,” CR stated, “our tests reveal that superbugs can be found in about half of the chicken we tested.” Consumer Reports is claiming that a bacterium resistant to three or more antibiotics is a “superbug,” but nothing could be further from the truth – and they know it.

As the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has stated, “it is inaccurate and alarmist to define bacteria resistant to one, or even a few, antimicrobials as Superbugs if these same bacteria are still treatable by other commonly used antibiotics.”

A recent outbreak of Salmonellosis, with the large majority of cases on the West Coast, revealed many of the bacteria to be resistant to three or more rarely used antibiotics. But does that make them “Superbugs” by definition? No.

These bacteria were sensitive to the four most commonly prescribed antibiotics used to treat Salmonellosis.

A Superbug is defined as bacteria that are resistant to most antibiotics used to treat the infection they cause, in some cases all antibiotics, and, because of this resistance, hospitalization and death are possible complications.

The CR article states that many of the bacteria they found in retail chicken were resistant to three or more “commonly prescribed antibiotics.”

I wish they would tell us what those antibiotics were because the most recent NARMS report, which they reference, said very little or no resistance to the “commonly prescribed antibiotics” used to treat Salmonella was found on the retail chicken that FDA tested.

Yet the CR report states that, “Our findings were similar to what the Food and Drug Administration sees in its NARMS report”.

Something does not add up here.

Nor does the “97 percent of the breasts we tested harbored bacteria that could make you sick” correlate very well with the most recent USDA report that only 2.6% percent of young broilers tested positive for Salmonella.

Why the difference? Because the CR report includes every bacterium they found in their very erroneous statement that they “could make you sick”.

Of the six classes of bacteria the report lists as pathogens, the CDC, FDA and USDA do not consider generic E. coli, enterococcus or Klebsiella pneumonia as causes of foodborne illnesses. And, to further challenge their statements, I, as a medical doctor, have no idea how they can justify saying that the E. coli found on chicken can cause a bladder infection.

Americans eat about 160 million servings of chicken every day, and the vast majority of them are cooking and handling chicken properly and having a safe experience every time.

I am glad none of my family was among the ill in the recent outbreak cited by CR, but I think that sometimes we need to keep the numbers in perspective when discussing food safety in this country as the headlines create the perception that we are failing miserably.

And we are not. We are getting better.

CR throws around the 80 percent number that all anti-animal ag groups use to sound the alarm. But they also know that 40 percent of that number are antibiotics not even approved for use in humans, and another 42 percent are the oxy- and chlor-tetracycline antibiotics that were important way back in the 1950s and 60s but have long since replaced by another class of far superior antibiotics.

They herald the fact that Denmark stopped using antibiotics for growth promotion in 2000. What they do not tell their readers is that Denmark saw an immediate increase in pig deaths of 25 percent, followed by a rise in the price of pork.

And, most important in this discussion, they did not tell readers that the use of veterinarian-prescribed antibiotics to treat disease had increased by 120 percent, according to the 2010 DANMAR report, the Danish antibiotic use monitoring system. The Danes now use more total antibiotics in the industry than they did before the ban, and there has been no drop in antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

The report calls for a ban of all antibiotics in poultry except for the “treatment of sick ones” and to pass PAMTA.

Consider this for one moment, please. Can you imagine what would happen to 30,000 chicks being raised in a clean, climate-controlled facility if a highly contagious disease, such as Coccidiosis, were to appear and only the “sick ones” could be treated? Anyone want to talk about humane treatment of the animals we raise for food?

Lastly, the report calls for USDA to stop its plans to expand HIMP to make my food safer while saving me tax dollars.

Why? Because it would cost union jobs and the organization they cite that is against this move has been known to sit in with the bargaining unit during negotiations with USDA/FSIS administrators. Not exactly an unbiased source.

The HIMP issue needs an entire op/ed of its own, so I will close by noting the report lists July 2013 as the only date referencing a HIMP pilot project in an attempt to lead the readers to the conclusion that this was a small, short-lived pilot project when, in fact, FSIS has been running this pilot for more than a decade and has irrefutable proof that these plants have a superior food safety record when compared to the conventional inspection system.

A system, by the way, that has not changed since Ike was our president.

Oh, and by the way, lest we forget, foodborne illnesses are down by more than 25 percent since 2000. We are getting better without the need for laws and misleading reports such as the one Consumer Reports published.

Happy Holidays to the FSN team and readers. Let them be safe ones for all. Use a digital thermometer.

© Food Safety News
  • J T

    To get a bladder infection from that E.coli, you would need to have some pretty questionable hygiene practices.

  • Chuck

    Seems Sherry wants to conveniently forget the facts in Doc Raymond’s editorial that caused her some discomfort, BTW, quoting the Pew health Group is hardly quoting an unbiased resource. Sherry, what is your scientific background?

    • http://burningbird.net Shelley Powers

      That’s “Shelley” to you…

      “They herald the fact that Denmark stopped using antibiotics for growth promotion in 2000. What they do not tell their readers is that Denmark saw an immediate increase in pig deaths of 25 percent, followed by a rise in the price of pork.”

      Reference? Verifiable source? Study? Reference to little gossamer winged fairy with insider information?

      This is what I mean by providing sources.

      • doc raymond

        Shelley, it is common knowledge. I don’t need sources for something everyone knows. I was just in Europe meeting with Danish officials. They do not argue these points.

        • http://burningbird.net Shelley Powers

          When you slam a publication for its findings, and you make assertions of fact that supposedly back your viewpoint, you need to provide at least one single corroborating source for the information.

          You made a claim that hog deaths increased by 25% after discontinuing the use of antibiotics for growth. If this is common, then it should be a simple matter to provide a source. But how can we judge the accuracy (and lack of bias) of the information, if we don’t know the source?

          Everyone does not know this information. You’re writing an opinion piece to a publication that attracts a wide audience of interested people. You have two choices when you do so: to be inclusive,or to arrogantly disregard those who do not have a background you deem sufficient to “understand” these stories.

          • Michael Bulger

            Raymond obscures a few things when it comes to his data points. First, he doesn’t mention that the number of pigs in Denmark rose significantly. Secondly, he suggests that antibiotic use rose following the ban. It is true that therapeutic (RX) antibiotic use increased. However, what Raymond fails to mention is that growth promotion use was eliminated. This meant that the overall amount of antibiotics per pig declined. It’s a completely different outcome than Raymond presents.

            Between this and the many other errors Raymond makes, I don’t think anyone should be expected to take his word for the 25% figure. He needs to provide a reference.

            Here is a World Health Organization report that concludes the Danish policies have reduced antibiotic use and “dramatically” reduced the food animal reservoir of antibiotic resistant bacteria. All of this with a minimal cost to the Danish economy (and that cost does not factor in any human health benefits). I don’t see any mention of a 25% increase in hog deaths.

            http://www.who.int/gfn/en/Expertsreportgrowthpromoterdenmark.pdf

            Richard, what’s it like to be so thoroughly contradicted by simple fact-checking? You’ve been experiencing it for years on this issue. Personally, I’d be mortified if I was so easily and undeniably rebuffed.

          • doc raymond

            If the goal is to decrease the amount of antibiotics used in animal health, the Denmark experience failed miserably as the total amount of antibiotics used in animal health is now higher than before the ban on abx used for growth promotion. Just stating a simple fact that is supported by the 2010 DANMAP report. (Yes, Stupefy, you caught me with a typo)

            Really, you cannot have it both ways. Does the ban decrease or increase the use of antibiotics in animals? Pretty simple question

          • http://burningbird.net Shelley Powers

            Sorry, but this Pew report doesn’t agree with what you’re saying. And note that it sources its assertions. What you’re saying doesn’t seem to agree with anything I can find.

            http://www.pewhealth.org/uploadedFiles/PHG/Supporting_Items/DenmarkExperience.pdf

  • farmber

    Another “unbiased report” from Doc Raymond, again playing the Doctor Card to somehow lend credibility to his pronouncements — when his line of work is really spin-doctoring for the meat industry…

    • Oginikwe

      Raymond was the lead author on the safety assessment of BGH–you can read that here: http://thinkbeforeyoupink.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/Elanco_rbST-safety_assessment.pdf At the end of the pdf are the author bios.

      The non-corporate response you can read here: http://thinkbeforeyoupink.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/Rebuttal-to-Elanco-report-finished-paper-with-sign-ons.pdf

      Raymond reported in his FSN January 2013 article, “I
      want the readers to know that I do some consulting on food safety and public
      health for Elanco. . .” Since that disclosure isn’t in the 2009 pdf, one can safely assume that he started consulting for Elanco after that report came out. Elanco is a division of Lilly, one of the global corporations who make these antibiotics. Also, at the end of his January 2013 article, he wrote, “I,
      like most of my peers, over-prescribed antibiotics, thus contributing to the
      problem at hand.”

      • doc raymond

        Oginikwe, please go back to the link you provided and read the disclosure statement in the 2009 pdf. It states very clearly that i was providing consultative services for Elanco on public health and food safety. Criticize me all you want, but do not insinuate something that is just not true. Also, I have NEVER EVER written or spoken on BGH. Please get off the discussion list or get your facts straight.

        • Oginikwe

          Oh, why yes, it is right there on page 9 after the bios how you consult for Elanco, but since Elanco is the company that markets rBGH, that
          disclaimer is a bit of ridiculousness. As stated in the rebuttal, all of the authors of this Elanco-sponsored report either worked for Elanco or received consulting fees from them.

          The pdf is titled “Recombinant Bovine Somatotropin (rbST):A Safety Assessment.” rbST is also called “recombinant bovine growth
          hormone (rBGH), or just “BGH” for “bovine growth hormone.” If any
          visitor to FSN Googles “bovine growth hormone” they will get 1.35 million hits, including hits for the The Akre-Wilson BGH/Fox Saga.

          Who do you think you are to tell anyone to get off this discussion or any discussion anywhere? That’s hilarious: clearly humility is not one of your strong points. But I’ll meet you halfway: you quit writing corporate propaganda and doublespeak, and I’ll quit posting to your articles.

          As for getting my facts straight, I provided enough links, including these two pdfs, for people to read and make up their own minds.

          • doc raymond

            So you admit, after your false allegations, that I was forthcoming about my relationship with Elanco?. Isn’t that what disclosure statements are all about? You implied something sinister in that I had NOT disclosed when in fact you were caught with your lies being obvious. And any nincompoop can understand that rBST and BGH are not one and the same. Another false allegation made anonymously so he or she could protect their name. As of tonight, I will not be responding to persons without the honor or self confidence to support their personal attacks with their given names. Michael and Shelley and I do not agree very often, but at least we take responsibility for our statements.

          • Oginikwe

            Faux outrage.
            I alleged nothing except what you see in your own mind. Your ego won’t let you not respond. ;-D

          • Eliava

            Actually, rBST was renamed BGH. They are the same except that one is made in a lab. Otherwise, they have the same effect.

  • John Munsell

    Good morning Doc! You suggested that the HIMP issue might justify a blog of its own. I suggest you write it. If so, perhaps you could force FSIS to answer a question which they’ve been unwilling to do thus far, i.e., quantify the amount of microbial sampling FSIS inspectors will conduct at HIMP plants. I’ve raised this issue in several other media outlets, and to date, FSIS has adroitly avoided answering this query. The agency has justified its HIMP suggestion by stating that removing inspectors from inspecting birds for quality issues will free them up to perform work which will prove the plant’s success (or failure) to produce safe food. FSIS has clarified what such work would entail, by stating in part that inspectors will conduct microbial sampling. I am convinced that FSIS privately intends to do AS LITTLE SAMPLING as possible. Why? If FSIS conducts substantial sampling, the agency itself will be the first to read lab reports, which might be discomforting. Thus, when an outbreak occurs, the agency cannot subsequently claim that it didn’t know of the incidence of pathogens, nor can it cast aspersions on the plant for not sharing ugly details with the agency in an expedited time frame. If lab reports are adverse, then FSIS will face the delicately uncomfortable task of implementing MEANINGFUL enforcement actions against any plant experiencing a bad hair day. On the other hand, if lab reports reveal glowing success at the poultry/hog abattoir, we all benefit. Thus, why is FSIS reluctant to publicly reveal a precise definition of their intended FSIS-conducted microbial sampling protocol under HIMP?
    Let’s be honest here: budgetary savings from eliminating the jobs of 800 inspectors will free up funding to implement a substantial, and statistically relevant incidence of agency-conducted sampling regimen. My perception is that HIMP may indeed improve food safety, but the agency’s unwillingness to publicly reveal its intended sampling protocol at HIMP plants raises red flags, and questions the agency’s honesty, credibility and genuineness.
    John Munsell

  • doc raymond

    Shelly, I provided the link to the FDA definition of superbugs and the source of the Danish numbers as the 2010 DANMAR report. Please advise as to what other references are needed. What happened in Denmark is that the number of sick pigs with serious infections increased a great deal, and in 2010 they were using more antibiotics than ever before, but they were using them to treat serious infections, not prevent them. Which causes higher resistance, treating disease or preventing disease.

  • Steve

    Great editorial. The CR article is as erroneous as some of the reports from 60 Minutes.

  • BB

    “Nor does the “97 percent of the breasts we tested harbored bacteria that could make you sick” correlate very well with the most recent USDA report that only 2.6% percent of young broilers tested positive for Salmonella.”
    It shouldn’t correlate very well. It’s not comparing apples to apples. If the young broilers were tested for everything CR tested for than it would be much higher than 2.6%. Also, I assume the broiler percentage of 2.6% would be for whole birds. Once these whole birds are further processed, the ones that are carrying Salmonella are surely cross-contaminating all of the other PARTS during the co-mingling/further processing stage. Performance standards for Salmonella/Campy should be on PARTS (breasts, tenders, legs) in addition to whole birds. Back when I was working in the chicken plants, I do recall doing a baseline study on parts. That’s the direction FSIS needs to go.
    Although I appreciate what CR does, they’re not always objective and can be misleading as Doc pointed out.

    • tallen2007

      I assume that CR is being objective with their data. They do not know what you and I know about USDA testing; how they choose their samples, what they test for, and how the data is reported. It is apples and oranges. Because they didn’t say what strains of bacteria were found (and what they tested for) it’s hard to say whether what they say is true or not. You also have to take into consideration their audience….. they are trying to get people to take food safety seriously and prevent a lot of illness due to mishandling food in home kitchens! Thanks for taking time to comment.

  • Emily73

    As soon as someone whines about “union jobs” they completely lose credibility and expose their right wing bias.

  • Oginikwe

    Yeah. Whatever.

    Elanco has been claiming to reduce antibiotic use for over a decade. This from 2003: http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/elanco-animal-health-collaborates-with-mcdonalds-on-sustainable-antibiotic-use-policy-71361142.html. Lies built upon lies.

    Food Reservoir for Escherichia coli Causing Urinary Tract Infections (National Center for
    Biotechnology Information) January 2010 : http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2874376/

    CDC Reveals Scary Truth About Factory Farms and Superbugs (Mother Jones) 9/18/2013 : http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2013/09/cdc-meat-industry-yes-you-contribute-antibiotic-resistance

    New MRSA superbug strain found in UK milk supply (The Independent) 12/26/2012: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/new-mrsa-superbug-strain-found-in-uk-milk-supply-8431187.html

    E-I-E-I-Oh no: Decades of antibiotics in farm animals lead to deadly superbugs (Grist) 6/2/2011: http://www.grist.org/industrial-agriculture/2011-05-31-you-want-superbugs-with-that1/PALL/print

    Overuse of antibiotics (Soil Association) 6/2011: http://www.soilassociation.org/animalwelfare/antibiotics/overuseofantibiotics

    When We Lose Antibiotics, Here’s Everything Else We’ll Lose Too: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2013/11/end-abx/

    Dr. Arjun Srinivasan: We’ve Reached “The End of Antibiotics, Period”: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/health-science-technology/hunting-the-nightmare-bacteria/dr-arjun-srinivasan-weve-reached-the-end-of-antibiotics-period/

    • tallen2007

      Thank you so much for taking the time to post these references! Your providing these provides the opportunity for everyone to sort through the politics and opinions to make informed decisions.

      • Oginikwe

        The information is out there–you just have to be relentless in finding it. One eye-opening book that everyone should read is “Toxic Sludge is Good for You: Lies, Damn Lies, and the Public Relations Industry” by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton. Once we understand that industries will stop at nothing to manipulate public opinion, critical thinking kicks in and helps separate the wheat from the manure.

  • Sandy

    Is this some sort of joke opinion piece?

  • tallen2007

    Judy- This is an opinion, doesn’t necessarily reflect facts. Opinions are good for checking sources and the comments are usually as informative the article! You can’t believe everything you read from ANY source. Use your common sense and logic and do your own research!

  • doc raymond

    Our experience with MRSA and VRSA would prove you wrong. The right antibiotics were given at the right dose for the right length of time and Staph developed resistance.

  • Michael Bulger

    Here is a World Health Organization report that concludes the Danish policies have reduced antibiotic use and “dramatically” reduced the food animal reservoir of antibiotic resistant bacteria. All of this with a minimal cost to the Danish economy, and that cost does not factor in any human health benefits.

    (http://www.who.int/gfn/en/Expertsreportgrowthpromoterdenmark.pdf)

  • jacques Acar

    I would like, as a French person living in Europe and involved in surveillance of antimicrobial resistance in humans and in animals, to thank Richard Raymond for this paper on Superbugs.
    I share his opinion and the facts reported in the paper. To make any progress ,we need to respect science, weigh situation keeping the real facts in perspective and reject the Frankeinstanize game for every bacteria.

  • doc raymond

    The amount of DVM prescribed antibiotics is up 120%. Can you please give us the increase number of pigs? And BTW, Michael, as you probably know, the number of market hogs is not up very much. Just piglets that are sold to Germany for finishing. As always, you have some facts that muddy the water, and use them intentionally to do just that without disclosing ALL of the facts. That is why I still write, to try and get ALL of the facts on the table. .

    • Michael Bulger

      Read the World Health Organization report, Richard.

      For some reason, you won’t believe me, no matter how many times I reveal your mistakes. Obviously, you feel it’s more important for you to one-up me than it is for you to be accurate or read up on the subject. You’ve been corrected so many times in this comment section, and yet you continue to grasp at straws without ever acknowledging how blantantly false your statements have been. You brush off facts and corrections like a dog brushes off fleas.

      The facts are laid out in the WHO report, as well as by DANMAP. Readers should trust them, and the wealth of professional, academic, and governmental organizations calling for an end to nontherapeautic antibiotics in livestock.

      I have no more response to Richard.

  • Dr. Rob Stuart

    At what age do Danes wean their pigs? I thought that it was mandated that they wean at 28 days. When did the change occur? This website has become a “bash the conventional”. What is wrong with BST? Ben & Jerry’s are so proud that they do not use milk from BST-treated cows, but find nothing wrong with selling a product with 18% fat.
    FDA has failed miserably by not preventing companies from making false and misleading statements about BST.
    One other point. I was in Chipotle last week for lunch and they had a sign that they could no longer serve non-antibiotic fed beef because of lack of availability. With that statement, do you think they reduced the price of their beef dishes. NOT!!! Cost of goods should have gone down so one should expect selling price to go down!!