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

Beloved Lion Killing Sparks Virtual, Real Life Outrage

Twitter, as usual, was epicenter for anger directed at Palmer, with some questioning his manhood, calling for him to be released into the wild More

Video Booming London Property Market a Haven for Dirty Money

Billions of dollars from proceeds of crime, especially from Russia, being laundered through London property market, according to anti-corruption activists More

Video Scouts' Decision on Gays Meets Acceptance in Founder's Hometown

One former Scout leader thinks organization will move past political, social debate, get back to its primary focus of turning boys into good citizens 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.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Scouts' Decision on Gays Meets Acceptance in Founder's Hometown

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs