My Goodness, We Are a Pig Headed Bunch!

pig headedMy husband and I have a little ritual in the morning. We wake up, make a cup of tea, rouse the children, and then pick up our phones and scroll through our respective headlines while sipping said tea. It’s the modern day version of reading the paper, only the paper is tailored to our specific interests – so he feeds me snippets of global news and politics, and I feed him all the human rights and environmental tidbits. We are usually done by the time our tea cups are empty, and we meet the kids at the breakfast table to get the day started. On this particular morning, here were some headlines that stood out:

  •  Bleaching kills a third of coral on Great Barrier Reef’s north pristine coast
    Warm sea temperatures are the cause
  • Iconic places under dire threat from climate change
  • Yellow stone national park, Venice’s iconic lagoon, Galapagos Islands, Ilullissat Icefjord – being damaged by onslaught of climate related effects
  • Doctors ‘drug of last resort’ falling prey to antibiotic resistance
    Antibiotic resistant diseases on the rise because we’ve allowed agribusiness to turn antibiotics into livestock feed

This last one is the one I would like to focus on. The first drug resistant bacteria was discovered half way around the world in China in November last year. A few weeks ago, a woman in Pennsylvania was diagnosed as the first American to carry the strain. An entirely separate investigation turned up a similar strain in tissue taken from a pig slaughtered here in the US. What is concerning, is this discovery ties the new resistance directly to the routine use of antibiotics in livestock.

Both the patient and the pig were infected with a strain of E.coli resistant to multiple antibiotics, including some potent versions considered ‘last resorts’. They did eventually manage to treat the patient, however, Christopher Braden, MD, deputy director of the agency’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, warned that the plasmid-borne colistin-resistance gene could transfer to CRE or any other superbug, making them deadlier. Essentially, other bacteria’s can potentially become harder to treat.

CDC Director Tom Frieden hardly minced words when he told The Washington Post, “It basically shows us that the end of the road isn’t very far away for antibiotics—that we may be in a situation where we have patients in our intensive care units or patients getting urinary-tract infections for which we do not have antibiotics. I’ve been there for TB patients. I’ve cared for patients for whom there are no drugs left. It is a feeling of such horror and helplessness. This is not where we need to be.”

However, despite these dire warnings, we still continue to use antibiotics routinely in large scale husbandry (factory farms), and the reason is twofold: one, it makes the animals grow bigger more quickly, and two, since these animals are kept in close quarters unlike their natural habitat, and fed foods unlike what they would choose to forage for, they are sicker and instead of isolating sick animals and treating them, it is easier to add antibiotics to their feed and treat them all routinely. It is estimated that 70-80% of the antibiotics used in the US, are given to livestock.

So, what can we do? Well, of course you can let your Representative know what your position on the matter is, whatever that may be. But you can also help change the face of food production by supporting smaller scale farmers in your area. Smaller farms, regionally located, that raise animals humanely, are the answer to so many problems, and this may just be one of the more important ones.

By Pam Denholm

Resources: http://www.medscape.com – First Case of E-Coli Resistant to Last Resort Antibiotic, May 2016
http://www.Takepart.com – ‘Doctors Drug of Last Resort’ is Falling Prey to Antibiotic Resistance – May 2016
Photo courtesy of Brown Boar Farm

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