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What's Really Growing On The Farm?

What's Really Growing On The Farm?Are American farms actually making it harder to treat infections? A nationally-renowned expert at Tufts thinks they are.

Boston [08.23.01] While salmonella may be more widely recognized by the public, it's not the most common kind of food poisoning -- nearly 2 million people get campylobacteria infections each year, often from eating chicken. It used to be easy to treat, but a Tufts expert says the daily use of antibiotics for chickens and other farm animals has made the bacteria that cause the infection resistant.

"Almost ever since farmers began using antibiotics in animals, researchers like [Tufts'] Stuart Levy have been warning that they can threaten your health," reported National Public Radio's All Things Considered.

To prove it, Levy conducted a study in the 1970s to determine the impact of giving chickens the antibiotic drugs.

"Sure enough, the bacteria in the birds that munched antibiotics got resistance almost overnight," reported NPR.

And that could be very dangerous.

"Levy pictured a scenario: You sit down for dinner. You eat a chicken breast that's still got some resistant bacteria on it. Then you get sick and go to the doctor, but the antibiotics won't work," reported NPR.

That scenario appears to be happening around the country, Levy told the radio program's national audience.

"I'd be amazed if a large proportion -- 20, 30 percent -- has not confronted an antibiotic resistance problem," he said. "Many, many people in the United States are suffering in one way or another, some worse -- some have untreatable infections, some have died in the United States," Levy said.

And the daily use of antibiotics on farms across the country is partly to blame, he told NPR.

The problem dates back to the 40s and 50s, reported All Things Considered, when farmers realized the drugs made cattle, chicken and pigs grow faster.

After reading Levy's findings, the FDA banned some of the antibiotics from farms.

"But the meat industry went straight to Capitol Hill, and congressmen ordered the FDA to back off," reported NPR. Since then, the use of the drugs has grown.

And that could have some dangerous long-term effects.

"Levy and his colleagues discovered that the more you douse bacteria with antibiotics, the more some of those bacteria transformed themselves, like creatures from space, so drugs become powerless to kill them," NPR reported.

The FDA has announced new hearings on the issue and Levy continues to ask the same questions he did 30 years ago, even though he already knows the answer.

"What's happening on the farm...?" he asks.

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