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Archive for June 22, 2009

PEW Charitable Trust – Discussion On Antibiotics

A friend of mine asked me to review the PEW Charitable Trust claims regarding antibiotics. This organization was referenced by the movie Food Inc. PEW statements are in italics. My responses are in bold and are compiled by data, statistics and information through the CDC, FDA and the USDA.

Up to 70 percent of U.S. antibiotics go to animals raised on industrial farms that aren’t sick, to offset crowding and poor sanitation. This practice promotes the development of deadly strains of drug-resistant bacteria that can spread to humans.

The closest figure I can locate to the 70% figure is from 1978 FDA data, and that number is actually 68% and is based on volume of antibiotic administered in total, in relation to body weight. This seems fairly accurate as a 1000 pound steer will require a higher dose than a 150 pound human. I addressed the administering to “non sick” animals in my post, however, antibiotics are used on cattle that are not “back grounded” (cattle that are not current on their vaccinations prior to shipping) when first arriving to feedlots for a period of 2-3 days. A majority of cattle producers today though are utilizing and enrolled in the Beef Quality Assurance Program, which instructs how to properly background and prepare cattle for shipping, thus eliminating the need for administering antibiotics at all, upon arrival. Recent data also shows that these “back grounded” cattle are also 97% less likely to require doctoring at all during their stay at the feedlot. This a an example of a proactive step taken by family ranchers to provide a safe and high quality product to the consumer.

Penicillins, tetracyclines, macrolides, sulfonamides and other antibiotic intended for humans are typically pre-mixed in poultry and livestock feed or added to drinking water, often giving food animals constant low doses of antibiotics over much of their entire lives.

From my knowledge and experience, antibiotics are only administered when there is a disease outbreak. In the 1960’s and 1970’s it was more common to administer antibiotics through much of the life cycle of many food animals. However, due to modern science, it was discovered that this was unnecessary and the practice was abandoned. Further, the FDA has very specific limitations on the dosage, and length of time any specie (including humans) may receive treatments of antibiotics. Any alteration of the recommendations must be through an individual prescription from a licensed doctor or veterinarian. Additionally, all antibiotics have their own specific “withdrawl period.” That is the length of time an animal must go without treatment to insure there is no residual component in the product. Meat products are inspected for traces and if found, that product is not allowed to enter the food chain.

Ninety percent of hogs and 97 percent of poultry are grown on factory farms in the United States.

I will not attempt to address this statement. The discussion of the definition of “factory farm” will probably continue long after I am residing in a pine box. I can say that many poultry and pork producers are family owned and family managed. I also know that many suppliers of poultry and pork to non-family corporations are also family owned and operated. I will not, though, attempt to go into detail, as I am not as knowledgeable in those industries as I am in cattle, hay, horses, dairy and specialty crops. However, I would invite fellow farmers who are knowledgable in these industries to share this information.

Food-borne illnesses are becoming more difficult to treat due to the increase in antibiotic-resistant strains and the decreased effectiveness of antibiotics used as a first-line defense.

I have not, to this day, seen a reputable study that has been reproduced and peer reviewed that proves this statement to be correct. I concur that humans are encountering challenges with the effectiveness of antibiotic treatment. However, I would also suggest that our society has become to dependant upon drugs to cure all of their ills, and that much of this challenge has resulted from an overuse of drugs in humans, in order to “get healthy quicker.” I believe that unless an individual’s life is at stake, drugs should be a last resort. Human immune systems are miraculous, and almost always, do not need outside help. My doctor always told me to “let it run its course, get plenty of sleep, stay hydrated, and eat what you can.” As a result, in 39 years I have taken antibiotics once, for 7 days, for a severe case of strep throat.

Consumers are exposed to resistant bacteria through the handling and consumption of contaminated meat, through produce that has been exposed to resistant bacteria in soil and water, or through direct contact with the bacteria in the environment.

Everyone is exposed to bacteria, in all of these manners and more, period. Are some resistant? Probably. I fail to find the study or reference that is reputable, reproducible and peer reviewed to make the link between that and livestock. See answer given previously.

Food-borne bacteria are more dangerous in their antibiotic-resistant forms, because they are harder to treat and may require multiple antibiotic treatments, longer hospital stays and other interventions before finally being eliminated.

With my knowledge and understanding of the issue, I believe this is a correct statement. However, where is the connection to livestock and the support that livestock production is the cause? See previous answers.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria cost the U.S. health care system an estimated $4 to $5 billion per year.

Lacks reference, but may be true.

Each year 300,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths are caused by food contaminated by dangerous pathogens and bacteria such as Salmonella and E. Coli, which are increasingly becoming antibiotic resistant.

According to the CDC, since 1993, only 30 deaths have been attributed to ecoli infections. They also state that the vast majority of ecoli and salmonella infections are entirely avoidable, with the proper handling of food, including proper cooking, washing of fruits and vegetables and washing of hands. I found numbers close to those stated by PEW, but they were a WORLD count, not in the United States.

According to the CDC, in 2005, a total of 16,614 laboratory-confirmed cases of infections in FoodNet surveillance areas were identified, as follows: Salmonella (6,471 cases), Campylobacter (5,655), Shigella (2,078), Cryptosporidium (1,313), STEC O157 (473), Yersinia (159), STEC non-O157 (146), Listeria (135), Vibrio (119), and Cyclospora (65). Overall incidence per 100,000 population was 14.55 for Salmonella, 12.72 for Campylobacter, 4.67 for Shigella, 2.95 for Cryptosporidium, 1.06 for STEC O157, 0.36 for Yersinia, 0.33 for STEC non-O157, 0.30 for Listeria, 0.27 for Vibrio, and 0.15 for Cyclospora. Also, according to the CDC, there are approximately 70,000 cases of ecoli infection each year, this number includes both EC 0157 and STEC.

There are around 2.4 million Campylobacter infections in the U.S. and about half of these are resistant to at least one antibiotic. Nearly 14 percent of these infections are resistant to at least two drugs.

This may be a correct statement, however, once again, where is the reference and connection with livestock production?

Categories: Uncategorized

Food Inc. Correction #1 – Antibiotics

Food Inc. Correction #1 – Antibiotic Use

While researching statistics, data and information used in Food Inc. pertaining to antibiotic use, the only information I could locate, was from 1978. Therefore I have provided a more recent assessment for consumers, from the year 2000.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that more than 50 million pounds of antibiotics are produced in the United States each year.

According to the most recent (2000) AHI survey, 31.5 million pounds are used in humans, 63%, 17.8 million pounds, 36%, are used in animals, and around 700 thousand pounds, 1%, in plants.

Of the total used in animals, 14.7 million pounds, 83%, are used for prevention and treatment of disease.

Of all antibiotic uses, only 3.1 million pounds, 6.1%, are used for growth promotion. It should be noted that the term “growth promotion” is refers to decrease in weight loss due to disease that may occur due to stress at the result of transportation and arrival at the feeding location. Antibiotics are sometimes fed in the first rations to prevent disease until animal acclimates to their new environment.

Antibiotics may be approved for use in both companion and farm animals.

All antibiotics have a “withdrawl” period or period of time that the animal must be not be fed or injected prior to processing, so as to insure that no residual antibiotic is in the final product.

Meat for consumption is tested for residual drugs and other contaminates prior to entering the food chain. Any meat testing positive is not allowed for consumption.

There are more than 7.5 billion chickens, 292 million turkeys, 115 million cats and dogs, 109 million cattle, 92 million pigs, 7 million sheep and 6.9 million horses in the United States.

Finishing rations in the United States have NOT been allowed to contain any antibiotics since the 1990’s.

Cattle that get sick are separated from the group and kept in “sick pens” for treatment and then returned when they are healthy; this to ensure the health of the rest of the pen/herd, and reduce the number of animals that may need to receive antibiotics.

In addition to protecting the health of America’s pets, antibiotics help farmers maintain healthier animals, which helps make America’s food supply the worlds safest.

All information is data provided through the CDC, FDA, & USDA.

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