News / USA

Antibiotics Breed Drug Resistance in Pigs

Critics call for tighter controls

A new study found increases in about 20 different antibiotic-resistance genes in pigs that were fed low doses of antibiotics.
A new study found increases in about 20 different antibiotic-resistance genes in pigs that were fed low doses of antibiotics.

Multimedia

Audio

Pigs given low doses of antibiotics had more E. coli in their guts, and that bacteria showed an increased resistance to antibiotics, according to new research.

The study confirms the routine practice of feeding antibiotics to food animals increases drug resistance in the bacteria living in those animals.

The practice is common at large livestock operations worldwide. But experts say it is helping spawn new types of antibiotic-resistant disease organisms, fueling a global public health crisis.

California executive Tom Dukes had a close call with one such superbug. He got painful stomach cramps a couple years ago. His doctor said it was a serious intestinal condition called diverticulitis and prescribed antibiotics.



“Started those on Monday morning and by Tuesday night,  I really felt like a million bucks,” he says.

But a few months later, Dukes got the symptoms again. Again, he got antibiotics.

Drug failure


This time, though, they did not work. He wound up in the emergency room, in incredible pain.

“I’d never encountered anything like this before," Dukes says. "Out of all the sports injuries and broken arms and things like that, that all paled in comparison.”

Drug-resistant E. coli bacteria were escaping into his abdomen through a tear in his colon. Emergency surgery removed a 20-centimeter section.

Doctors had only one type of drug left that would kill the germs. That saved his life.

Dukes is a self-described workout fanatic who spends a couple hours a day in the gym. So how does an otherwise-healthy person get a life-threatening superbug?

“Although we’ll never know for sure exactly, it seems that the probable cause was basically from eating tainted meat,” he says.

Healthy animals vs. sick people

Animals raised for meat at large livestock operations around the world are commonly given antibiotics to prevent disease and to help them grow bigger with less feed. In the United States, more antibiotics are used for healthy animals than for sick people.

It’s a controversial practice. In a new study, U.S. Department of Agriculture researcher Thad Stanton and colleagues looked at bacteria coming out of pigs fed some of those antibiotics.

They saw “increases in about 20 different antibiotic resistance genes,” he says, including genes for resistance to one type of antibiotic that was not even fed to the pigs.  

“We also saw increases in E. coli populations, which were unexpected,” he says.

Stanton notes that most E. coli are harmless, but some do cause disease. And even the harmless ones can pass resistance genes to their not-so-harmless cousins.

Long-running debate


This study, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is just the latest round in a debate that stretches back four decades. It has been known for at least that long that feeding livestock antibiotics generates resistance.

But Liz Wagstrom, chief veterinarian for the National Pork Producers Council says, “The bottom line is, what does that mean for either animal health or public health?”

Wagstrom doubts there is much impact at all. She says controls are in place at every step of the journey, from farm to slaughterhouse to market, to keep bacteria out of the food supply.

“The potential adverse effects of that bacteria being resistant are just very, very small. Close to zero.”

'Extremely concerning'

Not so, says Jim Johnson, an infectious disease doctor at the University of Minnesota and an expert with the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

Over his 25-year career in medicine, he has watched one drug after another fall to antibiotic resistance.

“The resistance that’s showing up in the E. coli that are coming in on meat products from antibiotic-fed farm animals is extremely concerning,” he says

U.S. regulators recently restricted the use in livestock of one vital group of antibiotics and are recommending other limits. Critics say much tighter controls are needed.

Control issues

But the threats are even greater in the developing world, where regulations and enforcement are weaker, says Bernard Vallat, head of the World Organization for Animal Health, OIE.

“More than 100 countries have no appropriate legislation to implement control on those products," he says. In those countries, "there is no control on importation, no control on registration, no control on distribution and use.”

And Vallat says resistant bacteria can travel anywhere in a globalized world.

Experts note that livestock are far from the only source of resistant bacteria. Use and misuse of antibiotics in people is at least as big a problem - perhaps more so.

For people like Tom Dukes, who carries the bacteria in his gut, where the bacteria came from is less important than where they go.

“I kinda live every day knowing it’s still there," he says. "And if it ever gets out again, that they may not have anything to combat it this time.”

It’s a fear that’s growing for patients and doctors around the world.

You May Like

Multimedia Obama, Modi Resolve Nuclear Deal Issues

Leaders find resolution on issues of liability of suppliers to India in event of nuclear accident, US demands to track whereabouts of material supplied to country More

WHO's Late Efforts in Tackling Ebola Highlight Need for Reform

Health experts debate measures to reform agency’s response to global public health emergencies in special one-day session on deadly outbreak More

One Tumultuous Year in Power for CAR's President

As sectarian violence raged across Central African Republic, interim President Catherine Samba-Panza has Herculean task: to end civil war and put country back on right track More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youthi
X
Julie Taboh
January 23, 2015 11:08 PM
Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.
Video

Video US Marching Bands Grow Into a Show of Their Own

The 2014 Super Bowl halftime show was the most-watched in history - attracting an estimated 115 million viewers. That event featured pop star Bruno Mars. But the halftime show tradition started with marching bands, which still dominate the entertainment at U.S. high school and college American football games. But as Enming Liu reports in this story narrated by Adrianna Zhang, marching bands have grown into a show of their own.
Video

Video Secular, Religious Kurds Face Off in Southeast Turkey

Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast has been rocked by violence between religious and secular Kurds. Dorian Jones reports on the reasons behind the stand-off from the region's main city of Diyarbakir, which suffered the bloodiest fighting.
Video

Video Kenya: Misuse of Antibiotics Leading to Resistance by Immune System

In Kenya, the rise of drug resistant bacteria could reverse the gains made by medical science over diseases that were once treatable. Kenyans could be at risk of fatalities as a result if the power in antibiotics is not preserved. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story from Nairobi.
Video

Video Solar-Powered Plane Getting Ready to Circumnavigate Globe

Pilots of the solar plane that already set records flying without a drop of fuel are close to making their first attempt to fly the craft around the globe. They plan to do it in 25 flying days over a five month period. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video How Experts Decide Ethiopia Has the Best Coffee

Ethiopia’s coffee has been ranked as the best in the world by an international group of coffee connoisseurs. Not surprisingly, coffee is a top export for the country. But at home it is a source of pride. Marthe van der Wolf in Addis Ababa decided to find out what makes the bean and brew so special and how experts make their determinations.
Video

Video Yazidi Refugees at Center of Political Fight Between Turkey, Kurds

The treatment of thousands of Yazidis refugees who fled to Turkey to escape attacks by Islamic State militants has become the center of a dispute between the Turkish government and the country's pro-Kurdish movement. VOA's Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video World’s Richest 1% Forecast to Own More Than Half of Global Wealth

The combined wealth of the world's richest 1 percent will overtake that of the remaining 99 percent at some point in 2016, according to the anti-poverty charity Oxfam. Campaigners are demanding that policymakers take action to address the widening gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid