June 8, 2000: Headlines: COS - Cameroon: Journalism: Speaking Out: Antibiotics: Livestock: Madison Capital Times: Cameroon RPCV Margaret Krome says Antibiotics Used As Industrial Livestock Growth Booster Puts Us All In Peril

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Cameroon: Special Reports: Camerooon RPCV and Political Columnist Margaret Krome: June 8, 2000: Headlines: COS - Cameroon: Journalism: Speaking Out: Antibiotics: Livestock: Madison Capital Times: Cameroon RPCV Margaret Krome says Antibiotics Used As Industrial Livestock Growth Booster Puts Us All In Peril

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Cameroon RPCV Margaret Krome says Antibiotics Used As Industrial Livestock Growth Booster Puts Us All In Peril

Cameroon RPCV Margaret Krome says Antibiotics Used As Industrial Livestock Growth Booster Puts Us All In Peril

Cameroon RPCV Margaret Krome says Antibiotics Used As Industrial Livestock Growth Booster Puts Us All In Peril

Antibiotics Used As Industrial Livestock Growth Booster Puts Us All In Peril
by Margaret Krome

I buy organic, free-range chicken from my friend Bill Moore, not only because it tastes good and I like to support local family farmers. I also do it because I have a tender feeling for a small boy named Brian.

When Brian was 2 years old, he got infected with the potentially deadly strain of the Escherichia coli, E.coli0157:H7. He was hospitalized for weeks, gravely ill, but survived, traumatized and with secondary health and emotional problems. The bacterial strain that nearly killed him is one of a growing number of bacteria resistant to antibiotics.

Brian did not get infected with E.coli0157:H7 by eating infected meat. Nonetheless, the Centers for Disease Control say that illness and death from resistant bacteria, particularly in food, is rising dangerously.

They cite 8,000 to 18,000 annual hospitalizations, 2,400 bloodstream infections and 500 deaths from salmonella alone, not to mention the Campylobacter, E.coli and other bacteria. The Food and Drug Administration says the nation's meat supply has become seriously contaminated with bacteria, reporting for example, that 20 percent of poultry carcasses are infected with salmonella and 88 percent of broiler carcasses have Campylobacter.

FDA scientists have documented increasing levels of some resistant bacteria in meat in recent years. No wonder health officials tell us to cook our meat! It's a reasonable precaution, but it doesn't address the sources of the problem.

The CDC and many others say one major cause of resistance is increased low-level use of antibiotics by the increasingly industrial livestock sector. The CDC estimates that 80 percent of the nation's livestock receives small daily antibiotic doses not intended to cure known ailments but instead to fight any before they come up, thus saving the animals' energy and farmers' money. Many bacteria are killed off by these antibiotics, but some aren't, becoming resistant.

The prophylactic use of antibiotics as growth promoters is particularly common among the nation's growing number of livestock farms. Large animal facilities -- sometimes holding hundreds of thousands of chickens, for example, are breeding grounds for bacteria and disease, which antibiotics keep under control. Of course, meat and feed additive industries, many industrial farmers and consequently the U.S. Department of Agriculture, resist the link between livestock practices and antibiotic resistance. They say there isn't sufficient proof that subtherapeutic doses of antibiotics are at fault. They point fingers at hospital uses of antibiotics, overprescribing of antibiotics by doctors for ailments that aren't even bacteria-caused, the use of anti-bacterial soaps and other sources, some of which clearly do contribute to antibiotic resistance. So what?

The livestock industry's arguments ring hollow. It's clear the industry is struggling to find sound arguments when apologists worry Cassandra-like that phasing out antibiotics as livestock growth promoters would cost consumers annually between $4.85 and $9.72 more per person for meat and fish. Imagine that! The industry's claims of "judicious and responsible use'' of antibiotics looks phony, and its urging of slow, voluntary and watered-down public policy responses looks and is morally compromised.

As with many food issues, Europe engaged this fight ahead of the United States, and its experiences are instructive. After the European Union banned four human antibiotics as livestock growth promoters in December 1998, scientists found that levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria began declining within months. Similar results have been found with other antibiotics.

I'm grateful that Brian survived his horrible ordeal. Not all are so lucky. What level of proof is fair to expect before federal agencies make livestock producers do the proper thing to protect antibiotics? All we need to answer this question sensibly is to consider the millions of small children, elderly people, people with compromised immune systems, or at particular risk for infections, and ask whose needs are greater? Their need for access to this common arsenal of health tools, or the need of mostly very large farms to help them bring livestock to market weight more economically?

The answer is obvious. The government should do what the World Health Organization, CDC and many others are asking of them -- let farmers still use antibiotics to treat specific maladies, but phase them out as growth promoters. Not set up a regulatory structure that would take decades to have impact, as the FDA proposed last year. Not set voluntary guidelines for livestock producers to follow. Phase them out.

Margaret Krome is a Madison resident who writes this column every other week.

© 2000 The Capital Times

When this story was posted in December 2004, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: Madison Capital Times

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Cameroon; Journalism; Speaking Out; Antibiotics; Livestock



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