Home > Uncategorized > PEW Charitable Trust – Discussion On Antibiotics

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
  1. June 22, 2009 at 3:14 PM

    Hi Jeff,Regarding resistant bacteria, what do you think of the Johns Hopkins University study that found that transport of broiler chickens does indeed spread anti-biotic resistant bacteria to the public at large? http://www.jhsph.edu/publichealthnews/press_releases/2008/rule_chicken_transport.htmlThis study was done practically in my backyard.

  2. June 22, 2009 at 3:48 PM

    Jeff, the 300,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths per year stats are U.S. numbers. See http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/eid/Vol5no5/mead.htm for the original source. According to the study, Salmonella is a big deal but E. Coli is not (unless, of course, you're unlucky enough to become infected!). Note that this study is from 1999. Things may have changed in 10 years. I plan to do a more in-depth review of the Pew claims on my blog in the near future. Unlike you, I don't have a full-time job so I can dig in deeper!

  3. June 22, 2009 at 4:44 PM

    Thanks, Jeff, for taking the time to respond to my question regarding the PEW data. I appreciate the effort, as well as your clear and deep knowledge of cattle ranching.BTW, the research referenced by PEW comes from a 2001 study released by the Union of Concerned Scientists (http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/science_and_impacts/impacts_industrial_agriculture/hogging-it-estimates-of.html). The web page also indicates that it was last revised on 04/07/04.Quoting from that report:"Livestock use accounts for the lion's share of the total quantity of antimicrobials used in the United States. Our estimates suggest that nontherapeutic livestock use accounts for 70 percent of total antimicrobial use. When all agricultural uses are considered, the share could be as high as 84 percent. This estimate is far higher than the 40 percent figure commonly given in the literature for the agricultural share of antimicrobial use."UCS acknowledges the difference in its data versus that "commonly given in the literature." Unfortunately, they don't explain why the difference, which leaves the question somewhat open in my mind.Cheers,Rob Smarta.k.a., Jambutter on Twitterhttp://everytable.wordpress.com

  4. June 23, 2009 at 12:29 PM

    Thanks Jeff for your objective replies to the Pew claims. I just want to bring to your attention a recent study in a credible journal conducted by the FDA and the VA that provides strong evidence that agricultural antibiotic use is what accounts for the substantial prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria on farms. We've commented on these results on our blog, from the perspective of conserving antibiotic use. http://extendingthecure.org/blog

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