By: Jim Hetzer

There have been major concerns about the overuse and overexposure to antibiotics that are leading to “super bugs” that cannot be killed by any existing antibiotic. Joseph Mercola, MD has described a new channel for the development of antibiotic resistant microbes from a relatively unlikely source. Dr. Mercola released an article on Dec. 29, 2015 titled “Factory Farm “Cannibalism” and Rising Antibiotic Use Pose Serious Threats to Human Health.”

The meat that we eat, including beef, pork and poultry are being fed animal parts in their feed. The resulting diseases have included mad cow disease, swine flu, and bird flu. Mcr-1, the most virulent microbe yet identified, has been found in China. That microbe is not killed by the most powerful class of antibiotics. It has been identified in meat and humans in China, and was also identified in the blood of a patient in Denmark that had eaten imported meat from China.

Dr. Mercola’s article summarizes examples of microbes that are resistant to the strongest current antibiotic class.

  • In 2014, nearly 10 percent of the entire swine population in the U.S. was wiped out by the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv) — a highly lethal virus traced back to pig's blood used in piglet feed
  • To thwart reemergence of PEDv, some farmers are now feeding the intestines from baby pigs that died from the disease to their breeding hogs — yet another "cannibal" strategy that may produce adverse results
  • Researchers recently discovered a mutated gene in Chinese meat and human patients that makes bacteria resistant to our last-resort class of antibiotics. The identical gene has also been found in Denmark, suggesting global spread has begun

Approximately 80% of the antibiotics used in the US are fed to feed animals. While the FDA has provided "guidelines" to farmers to limit the use of antibiotics to sick animals only, farmers continue to use antibiotics to increase animal growth. California has passed a state law that prohibits antibiotic use in feed animals except to treat identified sick animals. Once again, a state has acted to protect its population where the FDA has failed to act. The CA law goes into effect in 2018. Researchers are looking at prebiotics, probiotics and anti-microbial herbs as potential substitutes for antibiotics used in feed animals.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides a list of the worst 18 antibiotic resistant microbes. Three are categorized at the Urgent hazard level. Clostridium difficile, Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) and drug-resistant Neisseria gonorrhoeae (cephalosporin resistance) are the three most dangerous of these mutated organisms. These three microbes are not controlled by antibiotics. Their spread to other organisms, e.g. E. coli, could lead to the end of antibiotics being effective to stop the spread of microbes on a worldwide basis.

While the use of antibiotics in feed animals on factory farms has been a major contributor to the super bug category, overuse of antibiotics in humans, and issues of development of these microbes in hospitals and outpatient treatment centers have also contributed to the potential of a global pandemic of antibiotic resistant microbes. The solutions to combat the development and continued evolution of antibiotic resistant microbes are complex. Tighter regulations for factory farm use of antibiotics, safe disposal of animal wastes, better testing of meat products for resistant microbes will slow the spread of these microbes. 

On an individual basis, buying organic meats and eggs from free-range animals is the best protection at this time. Write or call your congressional representatives and senators to express concern that factory farm practices need to be monitored and regulated. Senator Sherrod Brown sits on the Agricultural committee, and serves on the subcommittee for organic farming and agricultural research. You can also contact Senator Rob PortmanRepresentative Steve StiversRepresentative Pat Tiberi and Representative Joyce Beatty to tell them you want them to enact legislation to minimize the use of antibiotics in feed animals.

Originally Published: Examiner