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Documentary Explores Use of Antibiotics in Food Animals

On Tuesday night, PBS aired FRONTLINE’s two-part documentary exploring the increasing prevalence of antibiotic resistance. The first half of “The Trouble with Antibiotics” focused on the science and politics behind the widespread use of antibiotics in food animals, presenting the history of the practice and attempts to link human illnesses back to animal antibiotics.

Highlighted research included the proximity of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) cases to crop fields covered with pig manure, evidence that use of antibiotics that are not so important to human medicine (such as tetracyclines) may expand bacteria’s resistance to critically important ones such as cephalosporins, and preliminary results of a whole-genome sequencing study that suggest that Flagstaff, AZ, residents with urinary tract infections resistant to antibiotics got them from the meat in their local supermarket.

Before the documentary aired, industry groups appeared worried about how animal agriculture might be portrayed in press reports about the episode.

The National Pork Board told members in an email that it was working with other livestock commodity groups, as well as the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, Animal Ag Alliance, Animal Health Institute, and American Veterinary Medical Association, “to monitor, engage and respond to” the coverage.

Industry’s “proactive steps” include offering veterinarian experts and farmers for interviews with mainstream media, a radio spot highlighting responsible antibiotics management, and paid search-engine optimization to direct certain searches to sites such as PorkCares.org — the site for the National Pork Board and National Pork Producers Council’s initiative to promote responsible farming practices.

A U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance email reminded members to keep key messages in mind when answering questions about the episode: “Antibiotics are just one tool in the toolbox,” “FDA approval process is stringent,” and, “No cases of animal antibiotic use leading to antibiotic resistant superbugs.”

The second half of the FRONTLINE documentary revisits their October 2013 story about an outbreak of Klebsiella pneumoniae carbapenemase (KPC) at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in 2011. The new 2014 segment includes an interview with the parents of a young man who died from KPC a year after the outbreak when he was admitted to the hospital because of complications from a bone marrow transplant.

© Food Safety News
  • LouWho

    So what’s your point about farmers? The things you list seem like they could be genuine interest if it were’t for your use of quotes around proactive steps and the statement about their perceived nervousness. Do you genuinely care about what they are trying to do to help producers or are you being facetious?

    • MaryFinelli

      Apparently the industry groups are afraid to let their members think and speak for themselves, and feels the need to coach them. It’s informative, and appropriate for FSN to report it as it did. You sound awfully defensive.

  • msps

    I just read something that said Prozac is found in a lot of chickens. True??