A Michigan State University study of swine in China and the U.S. has shown that the apparently growing prevalence of antibiotics in their food is leading to an uptick in drug-resistance germ counts.
The study involved swine in large-scale breeding/growing operations in China and what’s been described as ‘a population of pigs’ in the U.S. The research was intended to discover, as it did, how widespread use of antibiotics to promote growth and discourage disease can produce totally unintended, and unexpected, results, including cross-pollination, as it were, of bacteria, causing new forms to be so resistant to antibiotics that people consuming pigs’ meat – be it in the form of, say, pork chops, pork roasts, sausage or bacon – can, and do, too often become ill.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that, every year, no fewer than two million Americans are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and at least 23,000 of them die, each year, as a result of these infections.
The study team, led by James Tiedje, a professor of microbiology and molecular genetics at MSU, found that multidrug-resistant bacteria were the norm, not the exception, on farms where growth-promoting and disease-preventing antibiotics are constantly included in the animals’ food.
Tiedje noted that this is “a global issue, not an isolated Chinese issue, [because] multidrug resistance is just a plane ride away. This is why our work in China is definitely as relevant as in the United States.”
Complicating this issue, like others, is the fact that food consumers in the developed world want cheaper food – often from animals raised more efficiently, in terms of time and low-losses during the increasingly-quicker growth process – and people in developing countries absolutely need animal-based foods that are produced and can be sold at prices they can afford on limited budgets.
But no one – beyond swine producers, in this instance – gains when the animals’ feed is so ‘infested’ with antibiotics that consumers end up being confronted with infections, and worse, resistant to the antibiotic-based medicines that are intended to cure them.
The ultimate compromise on the use of antibiotics in animal foodstuffs will undoubtedly have to fall on the side of ‘less is more’: Less antibiotic use can, while more than likely pushing up retail prices of the end product, also is more than likely to leave consumers healthier.
A consummation, as Shakespeare said, devoutly to be wished.