February 12, 2010

Want some drug-resistant germs with that pork chop?

From the five-part AP series When Drugs Stop Working:
[T]he overuse of antibiotics in humans and animals has led to a plague of drug-resistant infections that killed more than 65,000 people in the U.S. last year - more than prostate and breast cancer combined. And in a nation that used about 35 million pounds of antibiotics last year, 70 percent of the drugs went to pigs, chickens and cows.
Margie Mason and Martha Mendoza are the excellent reporters who wrote When Drugs Stop Working, and if you missed it in December, you can read the complete series here. [The articles are in pdf.] The fifth article, Solution to killer superbug found in Norway, shows how MRSA [Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus] can be controlled. Norway's solution? Cut [human] antibiotic use way, way back:
A spate of new studies from around the world prove that Norway's model can be replicated with extraordinary success, and public health experts are saying [MRSA] deaths - 19,000 in the U.S. each year alone, more than from AIDS - are unnecessary.

But what about the 24.5 million pounds of antibiotics fed to livestock in the U.S. each year? [So glad you asked.] Over at Civil Eats, you can watch this week's CBS Special Report on Antibiotics and Animal Agriculture:
In the report, [Katie] Couric visits a confinement pig operation, where she speaks to a farmer who believes using antibiotics is necessary. She talks to victims of MRSA, a bacteria infection that is resistant to antibiotics. And she visits similar hog confinement operations in Denmark that are taking care of their animals without the use of antibiotics. The Danish are proud to have transitioned, and scientists go on the record to talk about the decrease in antibiotic resistance in humans since the ban in that country.

Related articles [all from USC's ReportingonHealth]:
Q&A with the AP's Martha Mendoza
Covering outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant infections
Useful Resources: MRSA

Pork Magazine responds to the CBS report

From this blog:
"Taking the Lambs to Market"
Factory farmed pork safer than free range? In a pig's eye
Some Pigs

Boss Hog. Excerpt:
Smithfield's pigs live by the hundreds or thousands in warehouse-like barns, in rows of wall-to-wall pens. Sows are artificially inseminated and fed and delivered of their piglets in cages so small they cannot turn around[...] There is no sunlight, straw, fresh air or earth.
The temperature inside hog houses is often hotter than ninety degrees. The air, saturated almost to the point of precipitation with gases from shit and chemicals, can be lethal to the pigs. Enormous exhaust fans run twenty-four hours a day. The ventilation systems function like the ventilators of terminal patients: If they break down for any length of time, pigs start dying.

From Smithfield's point of view, the problem with this lifestyle is immunological. Taken together, the immobility, poisonous air and terror of confinement badly damage the pigs' immune systems. They become susceptible to infection, and in such dense quarters microbes or parasites or fungi, once established in one pig, will rush spritelike through the whole population. Accordingly, factory pigs are infused with a huge range of antibiotics and vaccines[...]
Read it and weep. If you still can't bear the thought of life without bacon, call a farmer with pasture-raised pigs. Or try "free-range, grass-fed, organic, locally produced, locally harvested, sustainable, native, low-stress, low-impact, humanely slaughtered meat" — which is to say, the kind you hunt. Whatever you do, though, please don't trot out the old "factory farms keep prices down for the consumer" lame-O excuse. Because no amount of savings justifies the cruelty inflicted on factory-farmed livestock.

1 comment:

Smart Dogs said...

This is why I buy my pork from a friend who raises a couple of Berkshire hogs in her horse pasture. The boys are named and petted and fed treats - and then they get really, really drunk and never wake up.

No antibiotics, no rendered nasty crap in their feed - and lots of sunshine, rooting and companionship.

They don't taste anything like the white "could be chicken" junk in stores.