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MRSA and animals

(article, Kim Carlson)

As greater numbers of people increase their awareness of food and the ways it relates to health and the environment, many lament the feedlot system of raising animals. 

What's wrong with feedlots? Well, apart from the usual — feedlot animals live in filth and dine on unhealthy food — such close quarters lead to disease outbreaks. So feedlot animals are also dosed with excessive amounts of antibiotics, which contributes to the growth of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria — in the animals, and in those of us who eat them. 

Last week Salon writer Alex Koppelman looked at whether antibiotic use in animals might in fact contribute to MRSA, the virulent staph infection that has recently been publicized as spreading throughout the United States. Although the evidence is inconclusive, findings like this are startling:

bq. One group of researchers found that pig farmers in one area of \[The Netherlands\] were more than 760 times as likely as the general population to be carrying MRSA. They concluded that if their observation held true elsewhere, then "pig farming poses a significant risk factor for MRSA carriage in humans that warrants screening wherever pig farmers or their family members are admitted to a hospital."

Or maybe it's this that's really startling:

bq. "There are billions of dollars at stake here, and there's an entrenched way of growing animals that ensures that they will get sick and therefore need to be treated, so it's not at all hard to imagine why folks who want to pursue the public interest are going to run into resistance," says Margaret Mellon, a molecular biologist who specializes in agriculture issues for the Union of Concerned Scientists. 

bq. "The public health infrastructure in this country, regardless of this issue, is really quite badly off . . . They don't have much political clout, whereas something like the NIH, which leads directly to the production of drugs, which leads directly to billions of dollars for the private sector, could not be better funded."

We have a lot to learn about our food.