The antibiotic-resistant bacterium Extended
Spectrum Beta Lactamase (ESBL) is killing both
people and swine in Denmark.
The bacteria has been implicated in the deaths
of a number of cancer and liver disease
patients. The number of infected patients
jumped 50 percent last year.
Health officials said the bacteria is being
transmitted to humans through pigs. The
increased use of antibiotics in agriculture may
be behind the spread of the resistant strain.
What are ESBLs?
Extended-Spectrum Beta-Lactamases (ESBLs) are
actually enzymes produced by certain types of
bacteria, which renders the bacteria resistant
to the antibiotics commonly used to treat them.
ESBLs were first discovered in the mid-1980s. At
the time they were mostly found in the
Klebsiella species of bacteria, in hospital
intensive care units. Until recently, few people
were affected by these mutated bacteria and it
did not appear to be a major growing concern.
That has changed, however. According to the
British Health Protection Agency (HPA), a new
class of ESBL (called CTX-M enzymes) has emerged,
which are now being broadly detected among E.Coli
bacteria. These ESBL-producing E. Coli are
resistant to penicillins and cephalosporins, and
are becoming more frequent in urinary tract
Other species of bacteria that can now produce
The Problem is Worse Than You Think!
According to a study published October 2007 in
the Journal of the American Medical Association
(JAMA), there were close to 100,000 cases of
invasive methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus
aureus (MRSA) infections in the United States
in 2005, which lead to more than 18,600 deaths.
To put that number into perspective, HIV / AIDS
killed 17,000 people that year.
Antibiotic-resistant disease Is a major man-made
This was the study that propelled MRSA into the
new last year, combined with a number of school
outbreaks that took place around the same time.
Discussions focused largely on reducing medical
over-use of antibiotics, and proper hygiene such
as washing your hands with soap and water to
reduce the spread of infectious disease.
But little has been said about the rampant
over-use of antibiotics in agriculture, which is
a MAJOR source of human antibiotic consumption,
and hence increased antibiotic resistance.
Agriculture as a Source of Antibiotic Resistance
Both MRSA and ESBL are being traced back to
animals raised for food production, especially
These animals are often fed antibiotics at low
doses for disease prevention and growth promotion.
Animals receiving antibiotics in their feed gain
4 to 5 percent more body weight than animals that
do not receive antibiotics, but the price is high
for you, the end consumer, because this practice
also creates the perfect conditions for antibiotic
resistance to flourish.
Denmark's health officials claim they're unsure of
how farmers and veterinarians, who have not
consumed infected meat, are becoming infected.
However, according to research cited on Johns
Hopkins website, the main reservoir of these
organizations is in the lower substantive tract, and
they can persist within the gastrointestinal tract
for months. So although the answer does not have to
be all that complicated.
So, the meat industry practice of using antibiotics
is indeed a driving force behind the development of
antibiotic resistance in a now wide variety of
bacteria that cause human disease.
The long stalemate on this issue constituents a
struggle between strong science and bad politics.
The FDA finally built the use of fluoroquinolones
– a widely used class of antimicrobials – from
agricultural use August 1997, but not without the
Bayer Corporation kicking and screaming in vehement
opposition. After all, antibiotics for livestock
use is big business. It measures about 70
percent of ALL antibiotic use! They could not
replace that market with human consumers even if
Other Agricultural Sources of Antibiotics
Another heavily tainted meat product you should stay
away from is conventionally raised chicken. A 2006
study published in the Journal of Infectious
Diseases found that bacteria from conventional
chicken and from people who ate the chicken became
resistant to Synercid, a strong antibiotic used to
treat antibiotic-resistant bacteria. In essence, it
can cause resistance to the last lines of defense
currently available in the modern medicine cabinet.
It also found that it was rare to find resistant
bacteria among antibiotic-free chicken, while the
majority of bacterial isolates from conventional
poultry were resistant.
But, the ramifications of using antibiotics in
agriculture do not end there. Antibiotics filter
down through the food chain in sometimes
Antibiotics are also being transferred, via
manure, into your food supply.
A 2007 study in the Journal of Environmental
Quality looked at whether food crops will
accumulate antibiotics from soil covered with
In a greenhouse setting, corn, lettuce and
potatoes were grown on soil that contained hog
manure with a commonly used veterinary
The antibiotics were absorbed by all three
crops, into both their leaves and tissue.
Meanwhile, the antibiotics also transferred to
the potato tubers, suggesting that root crops
like carrots, radiates and potatoes may be
particularly at risk of antibiotic accumulation.
These finds unfortunately also have
implications for organic farmers, who often use
manure as their main source of fertilizer. And,
as it stands, manure that contains antibiotics
is still allowed under the organic label.
How to Avoid Excessive Antibiotic Exposure
So how can you ensure that the food you feed to
yourself and your family is pure and healthy?
Apart from growing it yourself, your best option
is to get to know a local farmer near you – one
who uses non-toxic farming methods. If you live
in an urban area, there are increasing numbers of
community-supported agriculture programs available
that give you access to healthy, locally grown
foods even if you live in the heart of the city.
If you are looking for a safer alternative to
Commercially raised beef please be sure to check
out grass-fed beef. Grass-fed cattle are not
routinely fed antibiotics. They may occasionally
receive them for an infection, but that would be
the rare exception, and even then they are only
used for a few days.