LETTER: No link between antibiotics used in livestock production, resistance in people

Thursday, January 7, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST

The Associated Press article “Pressure rises to stop antibiotics in agriculture” (Dec. 30) casts aside actual evidence and science in pursuit of a “good” story and reflects a lack of understanding about how regulation and careful use of antibiotics keep animals healthy and help protect public health.

Links between antibiotics used in livestock production and antibiotic-resistance in people are unproven, and the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring Program has not shown patterns that would be expected if resistant bacteria were routinely being transferred from animals to humans. In fact, a study from Ohio State University found that “antibiotic-free” pigs have a higher incidence of diseases and parasites than those that receive antibiotics.

Other important points:

  • Several layers of protection exist to ensure careful use of antibiotics in animals, including a rigorous FDA drug approval process.
  • Nearly 87 percent of animal antibiotics are used therapeutically to keep animals healthy by treating, preventing and controlling diseases, according to the Animal Health Institute. The remaining 13 percent include compounds never used in human therapy or used only topically in people and not associated with resistance.
  • An FDA risk assessment found that the types of bacteria in humans and animals were different, meaning the resistant bacteria in humans were not coming from animals.
  • While there is no public data available on the amount of antibiotics used in humans, companies that make antibiotics for use in animals now need to report to the FDA annually the amount made.

Finally, all of America’s hog farmers use antibiotics sparingly and judiciously to produce safe, nutritious pork.

Bill Kessler is a pork producer in Mexico, Mo.

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Mikey Popshot January 7, 2010 | 8:19 a.m.

Bill - I am not a pork producer and know next to nothing about pork production.

That said, I trust the real-life experts (like you) and serious, peer-reviewed studies (like the one you cite from Ohio State) far more than any environmental activist group seeking media attention for fundraising purposes.

I am more of a beef- and chicken-eating guy myself (sorry!) but as a consumer, I deeply appreciate you standing up against junk "science" and alarmist claims.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush January 7, 2010 | 9:05 a.m.

While I believe that you believe your letter, I thought I would provide some links to the things you "cite."
Maybe others would draw a different conclusion of what is actually present.
National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring Program
Here's a link to the membership list of the Animal Health Institute - look at all the Pharma Companies.
Furthermore, it is hard for me to take the AHI seriously as real science when their address is in DC a few blocks from K street, and they simply can't spell properly on their website.
Finally, I hope that you are right...that ALL of America's hog producers use antibiotics sparingly and judiciously. My gut tells me otherwise.

(Report Comment)
Allan Sharrock January 7, 2010 | 9:35 a.m.

Gregg do you think these drugs are free or cheap? Nope. Farmers have to cut costs at every corner to make ends meet. You can rest assured that if farmers don't have to buy medicine they won't. As far as the AHI location you know full well that it has little to do with the validity of the research. I see you argument about membership lists. However, on the flip side I am sure I could look at the membership of some global warming group and probably find somebody that stands to make a profit.

(Report Comment)
Christopher Foote January 7, 2010 | 12:44 p.m.

I strongly disagree that there is not a link between antibiotics used in livestock production, and the emergence of drug resistance microbes infecting people. There are numerous scientific papers demonstrating drug resistance microbes in animal stock and farm workers on the same farm infected with the genetically identical drug resistant microbe.
It is disingenuous in presenting this as simply an issue of animal health. Agribusiness became a major customer of the phamaceutical industry after learning that a number of antibiotics increase the growth rate of livestock. The animals are predominantly administered antibiotic drugs, not to fight off disease, but instead to promote growth. It is cost effective for producers to treat healthy animals, because it maximizes their return on their investment by allowing them to get their product to market faster. The problem is that in doing this they are generating drug resistant microbes that can be quite deleterious to human health.
If there is not a connection why is the the National Pork Producers Council's communications director, Dave Warner, saying this: "We are not saying, 'There is no connection, leave us alone.' We certainly are concerned about it. But I don't think that use of antibiotics in livestock ought to be singled out..."

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush January 11, 2010 | 10:58 p.m.

Since my original post, all the spelling mistakes that I witnessed on the AHI website have been corrected.

(Report Comment)
Dave Warner January 18, 2010 | 2:06 p.m.

To Christopher Foote: If "[t]here are numerous scientific papers demonstrating drug resistance microbes in animal stock and farm workers on the same farm infected with the genetically identical drug resistant microbe," cite one.

Yes, 13 percent of antibiotics used in livestock production can be classified as growth promoters. But the vast majority of those promote growth by PREVENTING disease, and few of them are used in human medicine, meaning they are NOT contributing to antibiotic resistance in humans.

As for my quote, I stand by it. The U.S. pork and livestock industries never have said there is NO connection between antibiotic use in livestock production and antibiotic-resistant illnesses in humans. We have said there is no scientific proof that there is, and that if there is a link, it is small and that a greater source of the rise in resistant bacteria is overuse of antibiotics in human medicine.

(Report Comment)
Christopher Foote January 18, 2010 | 10:08 p.m.

Here's four:
Horizontal Transfer of a Multi-Drug Resistance Plasmid between Coliform Bacteria of Human and Bovine Origin in a Farm Environment
Hanne Oppegaard,* Terje M. Steinum, and Yngvild Wasteson
Applied and Environmental Microbiology, August 2001, p. 3732-3734, Vol. 67, No. 8

Antibiotic resistance of faecal Escherichia coli in poultry, poultry farmers and poultry slaughterers
A. E. van den Bogaard, N. London, C. Driessen and E. E. Stobberingh, Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy (2001) 47, 763-771© 2001

Clonal comparison of Staphylococcus aureus isolates from healthy pig farmers, human controls, and pigs.
Andremont, Antoine
Emerging Infectious Diseases May 1, 2005

Antimicrobial Resistance in
Commensal Flora of Pig Farmers
Hélène Aubry-Damon,* Karine Grenet,† Penda Sall-Ndiaye,‡ Didier Che,* Eugenio Cordeiro,*
Marie-Elisabeth Bougnoux,¶ Emma Rigaud,‡ Yann Le Strat,* Véronique Lemanissier,*
Laurence Armand-Lefèvre,† Didier Delzescaux,§ Jean-Claude Desenclos,* Michel Liénard,‡
and Antoine Andremont†
Emerging Infectious Diseases May 2004.

Feel free to opine on the validity of these studies.

(Report Comment)
Ranch Wilder January 20, 2010 | 7:12 p.m.

I'll opine on the laundry list of papers:
Horizontal transfer of a multi-drug resistance....
- Shows plasmid transfer is possible among coliforms, something known already for decades,no issue. Antibiotics are not needed for this kind of transfer to occur.

Antibiotic resistance of faecal Escherichia coli in poultry, poultry farmers and poultry slaughterers
-describes resistance markers in E. coli. Discuss occupational exposure to same, non pathogens, etc.

Clonal comparison of Staphylococcus aureus...
-comparative study, some occupational implications, no antibiotics connection demonstrated.

Antimicrobial Resistance inCommensal Flora of Pig Farmers
-describes occupational commensal flora drug markers.

Some interesting micro. papers. Nothing quoted justifies PAMTA measures though.

(Report Comment)
mark McConell February 8, 2010 | 5:29 p.m.

I believe that this was written by a hog producer.
Ever eat pork from a hog confinement?
Ever eat pork from a farm where they are raised on dirt?
You be the judge.
The last time we had pork from a confinement we had to toss it out. It stunk and wasn't fit to eat.

(Report Comment)

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