Sunday, 3 August 2014

The Battle to End Antibiotic Use in Farm Agriculture


Maryn McKenna has been lecturing at the National Institute of Health in Maryland.

At a time when the full extent of the current scandal is becoming obvious, some of her facts surprised me: not least the length of time a particular problem with antibiotics in farm animals and the impact on human health has been known in Britain, and we are not just talking about the current decade long cover-up.

So those that claim there is nothing new are right, but not quite in the way they meant, which makes the whole scandal even more disgraceful.

The people pouring drugs into our livestock should have known they were risking human lives. The risks have now been realised. Now the people involved have to be removed from any connection with antibiotics or livestock.

Anyway, just a few choice quotes: as always read the whole, from the NIH Record here.

The Battle to End Antibiotic Use in Farm Agriculture

By Dana Steinberg


...“Even allowing for how new the antibiotic era was and how new these drugs were, and for the incredible enthusiasm with which they were being pursued around the world, it’s really surprising for me to look back and see the degree to which any evidence of possible unintended consequences was simply dismissed,” said Maryn McKenna, senior fellow, Schuster Center for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis, at her recent NLM History of Medicine Lecture “Losing the Miracle: Agriculture, FDA and the Controversy over Farm Antibiotics.”

...The use of antibiotics in livestock dates back to the 1940s. Researchers searching for ways to make animal feed more efficient and less costly tried using the newly developed broad-spectrum antibiotic aureomycin, later to become chlortetracycline. In 1948, the researchers observed that chicks given aureomycin weighed three times as much as the others. Soon, penicillin and other antibiotics would also be used to fatten livestock and, in 1961, the Food and Drug Administration approved antibiotic use for growth promotion.

“That you can cause these animals to reliably gain weight faster on the same feed, or less feed, is something that was done incredibly quickly, so quickly in fact that there was almost no consideration of the [hazards],” said McKenna...

...In the 1960s, the United Kingdom established the first government-supported committee to study antibiotic use in agriculture after people became seriously ill and some died from salmonella and E.coli poisoning linked to cattle farms. Around that time, FDA began to study the issue...

...Then experimental proof started to surface that sub-therapeutic dosing of farm animals can threaten human health. In 1977, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (later renamed the Department of Health and Human Services) responded by proposing to withdraw licenses for penicillin and tetracycline for growth promotion in animals, but the plan wasn’t implemented...

...In 2004, a curious case of resistance appeared on a farm in the Netherlands, which used more antibiotics in meat animals than any other EU country, said McKenna. A young girl tested positive for a drug-resistant staph infection (MRSA strain ST398), which unlike other MRSA strains was resistant to tetracycline. Interestingly, tetracycline wasn’t used to treat human MRSA in the Netherlands but was used routinely in pigs. That means the only place this strain could’ve developed its unique resistance pattern was in pigs, said
McKenna. This case also reinforced that resistant bacteria generated by antibiotic use on farms can move off farms and infect people with no connection to farming.

In 2006, the EU banned antibiotics as growth promoters in animals. The U.S. took a different approach. In 2010, the FDA asked the veterinary pharmaceutical sector to voluntarily stop using antibiotics in animals for food production purposes. After a follow-up, Guidance 213, issued last December, 25 of 26 U.S. pharmaceutical manufacturers told the FDA they’d comply and change their labeling...