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Story at-a-glance -

  • In 2014, nearly 10 percent of the entire swine population in the U.S. was wiped out by the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv) — a highly lethal virus traced back to pig's blood used in piglet feed
  • To thwart reemergence of PEDv, some farmers are now feeding the intestines from baby pigs that died from the disease to their breeding hogs — yet another "cannibal" strategy that may produce adverse results
  • Researchers recently discovered a mutated gene in Chinese meat and human patients that makes bacteria resistant to our last-resort class of antibiotics. The identical gene has also been found in Denmark, suggesting global spread has begun
 

Factory Farm "Cannibalism" and Rising Antibiotic Use Pose Serious Threats to Human Health

December 29, 2015 | 230,736 views
| Available in EspañolDisponible en Español

By Dr. Mercola

In 2014, nearly 10 percent of the entire swine population in the U.S. was wiped out by the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv) — a highly lethal virus traced back to pig's blood used in piglet feed.

At the time, I noted that this was a perfect example of what tends to happen when you "cannibalize" the food system; feeding animal parts back to animals of the same species. This is especially true for herbivores like cows, where the practice is associated with lethal Mad Cow disease.

Pigs are omnivores, but even there the cannibal solution can lead to serious problems. You'd think the industry would have learned its lessons by now, but recent developments suggest otherwise.

Infected Pigs and Contaminated Manure Used to Combat Lethal Pig Virus

There's no effective vaccine against PEDv, so to thwart the reemergence of the virus in offspring, some farmers are now feeding the intestines from baby pigs that died from the disease to their breeding hogs.1 According to Reuters,2 this "allows female hogs to become infected and pass on immunity to piglets ...

Those fed infected food or otherwise exposed to the virus usually become sick for a few days, but then get well again." Other farmers are spraying their pigs' noses with a mixture of water and hog manure contaminated with the virus, in the hopes of creating a "natural vaccine."

Yet another strategy being employed is to identify carriers of the virus, and then mix their manure into the feed given to female breeding hogs, "so they can pass on antibodies to piglets through their milk."

The antibiotics fed for weight gain contribute to a weakening immune system, which are a magnet for culturing and harboring viruses that have great opportunities for spreading.

So what we have here is a situation where an exceptionally lethal virus was created by overuse of antibiotics in the animals; which was then spread by feeding contaminated pig's blood to piglets; and now the "solution" is to feed infected pig remnants and contaminated manure to breeding pigs.

What could possibly go wrong?

It's worth noting that PEDv is not considered a food safety concern, for the fact that it is not transmissible to humans. However, it may simply be a case of not knowing what we don't know.

To illustrate this point, researchers are now suggesting Alzheimer's may be a slow-acting form of the human version of Mad Cow disease, known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). Infectious prions that cause neurodegeneration appear to be at work in both cases.

So, what might the ultimate outcome be when we eat pork that has been fed pig parts and manure contaminated with a mutated PEDv virus? It may be safe. Then again, it might not.

All I'm certain of is that the practice of feeding animal parts to animals — the cannibal food system — is fraught with potential health hazards. Overall, it's a bad idea.

Antibiotic Use Is Rising, Despite Worldwide Warnings of 'Antibiotic Apocalypse'

The PED virus was traditionally a relatively mild pathogen. Only recently did it suddenly evolve into a far more aggressive version, with a mortality rate of nearly 100 percent among affected animals. This is what typically happens when antibiotics are overused.

For years, experts have warned us that we must rein in the use of antibiotics as they lose their effectiveness in human medicine. Since 80 percent of antibiotics used in the US are given to livestock, food producers have been urged to cease giving animals antibiotics for non-medical purposes.

Despite such dire warnings, agricultural use of antibiotics in the U.S. rose by 23 percent between 2009 and 2014.3 As noted by NPR:4

"If you go by their declarations and promises, meat producers are drastically cutting back on the use of antibiotics to treat their poultry, pigs, and cattle. Over the past year, one big food company after another has announced plans to stop using these drugs.

But if you go by the government's data on drugs sold to livestock producers, it's a different story.

According to the Food and Drug Administration,5 which compiles these numbers, sales of antibiotics for use on the farm increased in 2014, just as they had for most years before that.

And most alarming to public health advocates, sales of antibiotics important in human medicine went up 3 percent from 2013 to 2014, the FDA found. That's just slightly less than the 5-year trend."

Failure to Limit Ag Use of Antibiotics Puts People's Health at Risk

An estimated 2 million Americans become infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year, and at least 23,000 of them die as a direct result of those infections. This is already a staggering number, but the problem is predicted to get far worse.

A 2015 report6 commissioned by UK Prime Minister David Cameron estimates that by 2050, antibiotic resistance will have killed 300 million people, with the annual global death toll reaching 10 million, and the global cost for treatment reaching $100 trillion.

To curb antibiotic use on farms, the FDA issued guidance on agricultural antibiotics on December 11, 2013,7,8 but it didn't go anywhere near far enough.

Drug companies were simply asked 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.

However, farmers are still allowed to use antibiotics for therapeutic purposes, without restrictions on how long the animal can be treated. This loophole allows them to continue feeding their animals antibiotics for growth promotion without actually admitting that's the reason for doing so.9

Considering the fact that sales of antibiotics that are important for human medicine went up 3 percent in the year after the FDA's guidance was issued, it seems this strategy has utterly failed to address the problem.

Drug companies continue to sacrifice human lives to keep animals on drugs, and CAFOs ignore the health risks in the name of economy.

California Steps Up With Statewide Legislation

To address these federal regulatory shortcomings, California recently passed its own state law to restrict antibiotic use in livestock.10

While the bill still allows antibiotics to be used as "prophylaxis to address an elevated risk of contraction of a particular disease or infection," the drugs cannot be used "in a regular pattern."

This minor detail closes the loophole that allows farmers to simply change the stated reason for why they're dosing their herd. The bill, which was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on October 10, 2015, will go into effect in 2018.

Between now and then, California livestock producers will have to figure out how to keep their animals healthy without the routine use of antibiotics. As reported by Aljazeera,11 researchers are investigating the use of prebiotics, probiotics, and certain herb and plant extracts, such as oregano and thyme, known for their antimicrobial properties.

Proof That End of Medical Antibiotics Is Close at Hand

The fact that the livestock industry has been so reluctant to act in the best interest of mankind is atrocious. They clearly waited far too long, because we may already have crossed the threshold of "no return."

Researchers recently discovered a new gene, called mcr-1, in pigs and people in China12,13,14,15 — a gene mutation that makes bacteria resistant to our last-resort class of antibiotics. This is precisely the nightmare scenario scientists have been warning us about.

In fact, it's a bit worse than predicted. The resistance provided by this gene mutation has "epidemic potential," as the rate of transfer between bacteria is exceptionally high. This means the drug-resistance can easily spread from one bacterium to the next, quickly eliminating the possibility of medical treatment for an ever-growing number of bacterial infections.

In addition to finding the gene in pork and chicken samples, it was also found in 16 patients being treated for infections, showing it's already making its way into the human population, by way of contaminated meat.

As reported by Scientific American:16

"Researchers ... found the gene, called mcr-1, on plasmids — mobile DNA that can be easily copied and transferred between different bacteria. This suggests 'an alarming potential' for it to spread and diversify between bacterial populations, they said.

The team already has evidence of the gene being transferred between common bacteria such as E.coli ... and Klesbsiella pneumoniae ... This suggests 'the progression from extensive drug resistance to pan drug resistance17 [i.e. bacteria resistant to all treatment] is inevitable,' they said. '(And) although currently confined to China, mcr-1 is likely to emulate other resistance genes ... and spread worldwide.'"

Mcr-1 Found in German Patient, Contracted Via Contaminated Meat

It gets worse. As it turns out, mcr-1 is not confined to China anymore, thanks to meat exports. As reported by Forbes18 on December 10, 2015:

"This week ... the Danish National Food Institute reported that they also ... found the mcr-1 gene in the blood of a patient and in five poultry samples that originated in Germany between 2012 to 2014. The patient had not left the country and was believed to have become infected by eating contaminated meat.

The genes found in the poultry were identical to those from the Danish patient and from China ... With the recent Chipotle E. coli outbreak, it's not hard to imagine the nightmare scenario of a foodborne outbreak from one of these new, highly resistant strains ..."

Add to this the recent finding that DNA from antibiotic-resistant bacteria are also airborne, and have been found in water as well, and it would appear we are now in the beginning of the end of the antibiotic era. In the near future, even simple infections may become life threatening, and medicine will have nothing to offer to these patients — all because factory farmers wanted to produce more for less money. Hardly the bargain they promised, if you ask me.

How Can You Protect Yourself and Your Family?

There's no sugar-coating it. We're at a critical junction, and we have to get serious about this issue. Tens of millions of people are likely going to die in the coming decades as a result of widespread antibiotic abuses. The presence of mcr-1 may further speed up the prevalence of bacteria impervious to every single antibiotic currently available. There are no quick and easy answers here.

The impending superbug crisis needs to be addressed from a number of different angles, but eliminating antibiotics for growth promotion and prophylactic purposes in livestock and fish production is perhaps the most pressing priority. As a consumer, you can add pressure on the industry and hasten this change by demanding antibiotic-free meats and animal products, no matter where you shop and eat.

Ideally, buy directly from a local farmer or rancher who raises his animals according to organic standards. Sustainably raised, grass-fed meats are also less likely to be contaminated with pathogenic bacteria. This goes for pork and chicken (and their eggs) as well. 

Besides talking to your local grocer or farmer, and restaurants you frequent, you can also make your voice heard by signing the Organic Consumers Association's petition calling for a mandatory ban on sub-therapeutic doses of antibiotics for livestock.

Also limit your own antibiotic use to when absolutely necessary. Focus on strengthening your immune system instead. As an all-around preventive measure, you'll want to make sure your vitamin D level is optimized year-round. Also avoid antibacterial household products.

Healthier and Safer Food Resources

If you reside in the U.S., the following organizations can help you locate sustainably raised foods, including grass-fed meats:

Weston Price Foundation 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 website 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.

Thank you! Your purchases help us support these charities and organizations.