Don't Miss Out

Subscribe to OCA's News & Alerts.

Cook Organic not the Planet Campaign

Factory Farms: The Evolution of a Lethal New Microbe

Recently, the antibiotic-resistant strain of Staphylococcus ("staph") bacteria, MRSA, has been in the news for killing more Americans than AIDS (100,000 infections and 19,000 deaths in 2005). For years, drug-resistant staph infections have been a problem at hospitals. Now, a new more virulent strain is killing young and otherwise healthy people.

CAFO's (Concentrated Animal Facility Operations) i.e., factory farms, for pigs in Canada and Europe have been found to be reservoirs of MRSA. Of the pig farmers tested in Ontario, fully 20% carry the bacteria and 25% of the pigs are carriers. In the Netherlands, 20% of all cases can be traced to an animal reservoir. Since Canada and the US do a lot of trade, that means MRSA may be present on pig farms in the US as well.

A study at Guelph University in Ontario by a Professor Scott Weese cites that "Pigs can now be added to the list of potential carriers of the drug-resistant "superbug" methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)." Link to the article here and notice that nowhere does it mention the massive dosing of pigs at factory farms with antibiotics in order to keep them alive in the horrendous filth of factory farm conditions. (MRSA is resistant to many common antibiotics, a fact he does mention.)

If you look at two other recent news articles, one from Canadian Press and one from The Toronto Star, you'll see the same omission regarding a) that pigs are factory farmed kept in disgusting conditions and b) that they are heavily dosed with antibiotics.

Contrast these lame reports with the New York Times Magazine article from December 16, 2007 called  "Our Decrepit Food Factories" by Michael Pollan referring to the fact that the new more virulent strain is leading some researchers to look "to another environment where the heavy use of antibiotics is selecting for the evolution of a lethal new microbe: the concentrated animal feeding operation, or CAFO." (A CAFO is a factory farm.)

"The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that at least 70 per cent of the antibiotics used in America are fed to animals living on factory farms. Raising vast numbers of pigs or chickens or cattle in close and filthy confinement simply would not be possible without the routine feeding of antibiotics to keep the animals from dying of infectious diseases. That the antibiotics speed up the animals' growth also commends their use to industrial agriculture, but the crucial fact is that without these pharmaceuticals, meat production practiced on the scale and with the intensity we practice it could not be sustained for months, let alone decades."

Experts have warned for years that this is a disaster waiting to happen as sooner or later, these practices would lead to the evolution of bacteria that could shake of any of these antbiotics "like a spring shower". That sooner or later seems to be about NOW according to the recent info out about MRSA.

The article goes on to say "given the rising public alarm about MRSA and the widespread use on these farms of precisely the class of antibiotics to which these microbes have acquired resistance, you would think our public-health authorities would be all over it. Apparently not." And that "as for independent public-health researchers, they say they can't study the problem without the cooperation of the livestock industry, which, not surprisingly, has not been forthcoming. For what if these researchers should find proof that one of the hidden costs of cheap meat is an epidemic of drug-resistant infection among young people?"

(Click here to read the full article from the N.Y. Times Magazine. It also discusses why honey bees are disappearing.)

Related Blog Entries:
The True Price of Bacon

The Dire Consequences of Factory Farming

Further Reading
Farm Animal MRSA spreading like wildfire in Europe: Soil Association

Abuse of Antibiotics at Factory Farms: Sierra Club