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Bacteria In U.S. Meat Growing Stronger

Bacteria In U.S. Meat Growing StrongerAntibiotics given to animals for decades have produced resistant strains of salmonella that pose a growing health risk in U.S., says Tufts expert.

Boston [10.19.01] Millions of pounds of antibiotics are fed to farm animals every year to help them grow faster. But three studies released yesterday provide more proof that the practice puts American consumers at ever-increasing risks -- exposing them to forms of salmonella that don't respond to antibiotics. And the problem will only get worse if the government doesn't act soon, warns a Tufts expert.

Yesterday, three studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine provided more evidence that the antibiotics used on farm animals -- usually without the guidance of a veterinarian -- have drug-resistant forms of salmonella and enterococcus that are being passed along to humans through the food supply.

The new findings "represent the proverbial 'smoking gun,'" Tufts' Sherwood Gorbach, M.D. -- an infectious disease expert at Tufts' School of Medicine -- wrote in an editorial accompanying the studies.

"The use of antimicrobials in food animals selects for resistant strains and enhances their persistence in the environment," Gorbach wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine. "Drug resistance in salmonella and campylobacter can increase the frequency and severity of infections with such organisms, limit treatment options and raise health care costs."

Tufts scientists have long argued that the use of antibiotics in farm animals is dangerous.

After conducting one of the first studies on this issue over 30 years ago, Tufts' Dr. Stuart Levy warned that the heavy use of antibiotics in farm animals could lead to major public health problems. [Read Related E-News Story]

Additional research over the last three decades, including yesterday's findings, continue to support Levy's conclusions.

But farmers and the pharmaceutical industry defend the practice, saying antibiotics have protected livestock from diseases that can devastate their animals extremely rapidly.

Gorbach disagrees, saying that the long-term dangers of the practice are too large to ignore.

"They are adding nails to the coffin," Gorbach said in an interview with Reuters.

Farmers have other options that could replace the use of antibiotics, the Tufts scientist wrote in his editorial.

"There are alternatives, as shown in Europe after the use of these drugs was abandoned," Gorbach wrote. "The economic losses could be minimized and even neutralized by improvements in animal husbandry, the quality of feed, and hygiene."

According to the New York Times, Gorbach called for new laws to address the problem, including -- as he described in his editorial -- "a ban on the routine use of low-dose antibiotic to aid animal growth and prevent infection, as it sets up ideal condition for the emergence of resistant bacteria."

The Wall Street Journal reported: "Reflecting the seriousness of the situation, the influential magazine published a lengthy guest editorial by Gorbach calling for far tighter controls on how often drugs are administered to cattle, hogs and poultry."

Among Gorbach's suggestions: restrict the use of antibiotics to just sick animals under a veterinarian's supervision and prohibit certain antibiotics used to treat human illnesses from being used on livestock.

The changes "would decrease the burden of antimicrobial resistance in the environment and provide health-related benefits to both humans and animals," Gorbach wrote.

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