By Dr. Mercola
The featured Frontline News documentary investigates the roots and ramifications of the growing crisis of antibiotic resistance. The US uses nearly 30 million pounds of antibiotics each year to raise food animals.1, 2 This accounts for about 80 percent of all antibiotics used in the US.3
The ramifications of this routine practice can be seen in hospital wards across the nation, as it is one, if not the primary driver of antibiotic-resistant disease in humans.
According to CDC statistics,4 two million Americans are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year, and at least 23,000 of them die as a result of those infections.
In my view, this is a very compelling reason to switch to organic, grass-fed (pastured) varieties, as growth promoting drugs such as antibiotics are not permitted in organic farming.
Large-Scale Agriculture and Hospitals Breed Drug-Resistant Superbugs
One organism alone—methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)—now kills more Americans each year than the combined total of emphysema, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson's disease, and homicide.5
The victims include young, otherwise healthy people, raising suspicions that the MRSA infections originate from the food they eat. Drug-resistant tuberculosis, urinary tract infections, and gonorrhea are also on the rise.
As reported by Frontline, researchers have found that people living close to confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) also suffer drug-resistant infections at much higher rates than others, again suggesting that antibiotic-resistant bacteria originate from large-scale agriculture.
Hospitals have traditionally been the primary source of dangerous infections. At present, one in 25 patients end up with a hospital-acquired infection, and many of these infections are drug resistant.
But it's the use of antibiotics in agriculture that breeds these hardy bacteria most efficiently. And by allowing this practice to continue, simple infections will become increasingly lethal, and even minor routine surgeries become exceedingly risky.
One of the most prestigious research hospitals in the US recently struggled with an outbreak of a highly lethal antibiotic-resistant superbug, Klebsiella pneumoniae carbapenemase (KPC), which spread from one patient to another in a highly complex and in some cases untraceable pattern.6 What's worse, many of these bacteria, including KPC, have developed resistance to multiple drugs.
A 2013 paper by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) titled "Antibiotic Resistance in Foodborne Pathogens,"7 report that between 1973 and 2011, there were 55 antibiotic-resistant foodborne outbreaks in the US. More than half of these outbreaks involved pathogens resistant to five or more antibiotics!
Meat Is Frequently Tainted with Drug-Resistant Bacteria
Large scale meat production is a primary breeding ground of drug-resistant bacteria, as low doses of antibiotics are routinely fed to livestock to promote growth and compensate for unsanitary living conditions. Previous research8 has suggested you have a 50/50 chance of buying meat tainted with drug-resistant bacteria when shopping at your local grocery store.
Frontline also reports that meat may be a source of potentially lethal infections—not simply because you're eating antibiotics and therefore building resistance, but because the meat is tainted with drug-resistant bacteria that can cause disease if the meat is improperly handled or undercooked.
One example given is drug-resistant urinary infections, which are on the rise. If the antibiotics fail to wipe out the bacteria, the infection can progress to your kidneys, which allows the bacteria access to your blood. The result is sepsis, which kills 40,000 Americans each year.
Using state of the art genome sequencing, researchers were able to compare E.coli samples found on supermarket meat with E.coli samples collected from patients with drug-resistant urinary tract infections. In this way, they were able to genetically link more than 100 urinary tract infections to tainted supermarket meat products.
When Greed Trumps Human Welfare, Tragedy Is Sure to Follow
It's frustrating to realize that voices of reason were ignored several decades ago, allowing for our current nightmare to emerge. As far back as 1977, then-commissioner of the FDA Donald Kennedy, a Stanford University biology professor, wanted to reduce the use of antibiotics in healthy livestock because it would likely to give rise to drug resistance that might threaten the human population.
As reported by the Washington Post:9
"Kennedy's proposal ran into a wall of opposition. The Texas Farm Bureau warned of 'a devastating effect on animal agriculture.' The Mississippi Pork Producers Association said it would cause 'a tremendous economic blow to our industry.'
The National Broiler Council said it would set an 'ultimately disastrous precedent.' The National Turkey Federation said it was based on 'flimsy scientific evidence.'
Then came the final verdict: Congress told Kennedy to stand down. His proposal was shelved, largely at the behest of the farmers and their powerful champion in the House, Rep. Jamie L. Whitten (D-Miss.)."
Industry Is Still Looking Out for Itself at Your Expense
When it comes to protecting business at any cost, nothing has changed in the past four decades. In response to the featured Frontline documentary, the livestock industry went into overdrive to cover up the attention.
"'The industry will tie any consumer searches for 'PBS Frontline' and 'Antibiotics' to the US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance site, Food Source,' the email stated. 'Included in these searches will be the terms 'pork, antibiotics and Frontline.' In those cases, users will be directed to the National Pork Board and [National Pork Producers Council] NPPC site PorkCares.org.'"
Political Paralysis and Industry Greed Is Killing Thousands Each Year
Despite evidence showing that agricultural antibiotics create drug resistance that could end up killing people, very little is being done to curtail the situation. After years of prodding, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finally issued updated guidance on agricultural antibiotics on December 11, 2013,12 but all it did was ask drug companies to voluntarily restrict the use of antibiotics that are important in human medicine by excluding 'growth promotion in animals' as a listed use on the drug label.13
Reaffirming the US government's unwillingness to act against industry interests, the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology recently announced a five-year plan to address antibiotic resistance.14 A five-year plan is simply too little, too late. We don't have that kind of time to waste. For each year we delay affirmative action, tens of thousands of Americans die, and the resistance problem keeps growing.
The industry is fond of pointing out the lack of proof directly connecting the antibiotics used in livestock to human disease outbreaks. This is by careful design to deceive you. The industry is not required to collect or report usage data. And without data on how and when drugs are used, such direct connections are very difficult to prove. That said, as shown in Frontline's documentary, genetic genome sequencing can and does provide compelling evidence for claims that that some drug-resistant infections are caused by bacteria found on supermarket meats—directly linking the act of consuming tainted meats with the contraction of a drug-resistant infection.
When asked why we don't we have information on antibiotic usage in livestock after more than four decades of use, FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg's beyond lame excuse was that they're still trying to figure out what kind of data is needed... In the video, she also notes that the FDA believes this voluntary approach is going to be the most effective and speedy way to eliminate antibiotics for growth promotion purposes. This is the same woman who received more than a million dollars from the largest seller of mercury to dentists and then overrode legislation that would limit mercury sales.
The meat industries have agreed to reduce usage, but if no data is collected to verify which drugs are being reduced, and by how much, how can the FDA possibly ascertain the effectiveness of their approach? So far, promptings to reduce usage appears to have fallen on deaf ears. According to the most recent FDA report, antibiotic usage actually INCREASED by 16 percent between 2009 and 2012, and nearly 70 percent of the antibiotics used are considered "medically important" for humans…15
Probiotics Might Save the Day
With antibiotics falling by the wayside, finding new remedies to fight infections is becoming critically important. Fecal transplant, in which donor feces from a healthy person are transplanted into a patient, is one novel option that is starting to gain more widespread acceptance. For example, fecal transplants have been shown to lead to rapid resolution of symptoms in 98 percent of patients with Clostridium difficile who don't respond to multiple previous treatments. Frozen capsules containing fecal bacteria from healthy donors are another, less invasive way to "transplant" healthy bacteria into an ailing patient. As reported by NPR:16
"Twenty people with recurrent C. diff infections took 15 pills a day, about the size of a large multivitamin, for two days. Fourteen of them were free of diarrhea almost immediately, with no recurrences. The other six tried the treatment again; that did the trick for four of them. The two people who failed to get results were in poorer health overall, the study17 found. But the treatment worked for people from age 11 to age 89. The Mass General group has since treated another 21 people with the pills, with similar success."
While I believe fecal transplantation can be lifesaving in some circumstances, I want to make it clear that you will likely never have to resort to receiving donated feces if you address your gut health on a daily basis—by avoiding factors that kill off your beneficial gut bacteria, and continuously "reseeding" your gut through a healthy diet. That includes avoiding sugars, all processed foods and meats from CAFOs, which may contain antibiotic residues, and may be tainted with antibiotic-resistant bacteria to boot.
Also, any time you take an antibiotic, it is important to take probiotics to repopulate the beneficial bacteria in your gut that are killed by the antibiotic right along with the pathogenic bacteria. If you don't, you're leaving the door wide open for further health problems.
Avoiding Antibiotics in Your Food Is an Important Safety Aspect
My suggestion to you is: don't wait for the government to implement an action agenda. Instead, take decisive action for yourself and your own family. Seek out trusted sources of food that do not use antibiotic pesticides and/or antibiotic growth promoters. Many small farmers use organic principles even if they have not been able to afford organic certification, so your local farmer is a good place to start. Some grocery chains also offer 100% grass-fed meats these days.
If not, ask them to start carrying it. I've also made connections with sources I know provide high-quality organic grass-fed beef and free-range chicken, both of which you can find in my online store. I believe the strongest message you can send is to change how you spend your food dollars. And by opting for antibiotic-free, pasture raised and finished meats, you're actively supporting farmers who are not contributing to the spread of antibiotic-resistance.
How to Find Organic Foods Locally
Your best bet for finding healthy food is to connect with a local farmer that raises animals according to organic standards, allowing them to roam freely on pasture. In the US, the following organizations can also help you locate farm-fresh foods:
Weston Price Foundation18 has local chapters in most states, and many of them are connected with buying clubs in which you can easily purchase organic foods, including grass fed raw dairy products like milk and butter. Local Harvest -- This Web site will help you find farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies. Farmers' Markets -- A national listing of farmers' markets. Eat Well Guide: Wholesome Food from Healthy Animals -- The Eat Well Guide is a free online directory of sustainably raised meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs from farms, stores, restaurants, inns, and hotels, and online outlets in the United States and Canada. Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) -- CISA is dedicated to sustaining agriculture and promoting the products of small farms. FoodRoutes -- The FoodRoutes "Find Good Food" map can help you connect with local farmers to find the freshest, tastiest food possible. On their interactive map, you can find a listing for local farmers, CSAs, and markets near you.