Are STECs more prevalent because of growth promoter use in cattle?

Antibiotics are routinely used in food-producing animals to promote growth and prevent infectious diseases.

cow.says.whatWe investigated the effects of bovine antibiotic growth promoters (bAGPs) on the propagation and spread of Shiga toxin (Stx)–encoding phages in Escherichia coli. Co-culture of E. coli O157:H7 and other E. coli isolated from cattle in the presence of sublethal concentrations of bAGPs significantly increased the emergence of non-O157, Stx-producing E. coli by triggering the SOS response system in E. coli O157:H7. The most substantial mediation of Stx phage transmission was induced by oxytetracyline and chlortetracycline, which are commonly used in agriculture.

bAGPs may therefore contribute to the expansion of pathogenic Stx-producing E. coli.

Expansion of Shiga toxin–producing Escherichia coli by use of bovine antibiotic growth promoters

Volume 22, Number 5 – May 2016

Emerging Infectious Diseases

Jong-Chul Kim, Linda Chui, Yang Wang, Jianzhong Shen, and Byeonghwa Jeon


Is it grumpiness with age or has mediocrity won PR (or both)

My friend Jim Romahn has been reporting on agriculture in Canada since federal Ag Minister Eugene Whelan started wearing green Stetsons.

Jim used to write speeches for Gene.

And he’s getting snarkier.

I know the feeling.

Jim writes the U.S. Department of Agriculture is adopting a new multi-testing system for meat that will make it much more difficult to sneak illegal residues into the country.

But the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is, once again, lagging behind.

When I asked if the CFIA is aware of the U.S. change and whether it’s doing anything similar, I got a nifty dissembling spin-doctored response.

Yes, the CFIA said, it’s aware of the U.S. move.

Yes, it said, it tests meat, poultry and eggs for more than 300 chemicals.

And yes, it is using a multi-residue test.

However, that multi-residue test is limited to about 30 antibiotics. That’s nowhere close to what the U.S. is now doing.

The single-sample testing the U.S. is implementing is for antibiotics, metals and growth promotants.

In the past, meat could sneak by if the sample was tested for one chemical or for one type of residue, such as antimicrobials. Not now.

When it comes to food safety and integrity, the CFIA just says Canada has the highest standards in the world, and one of the best inspection systems in the world. It’s just hot air, folks.

Specialty meat not safer

The number one health concern with meat is making sure it’s cooked enough to kill dangerous bacteria, which is something both conventionally and organically produced meats have.

So says Dr. Dana Hanson, a meat specialist in North Carolina State University’s Food Science Department in a piece for WRAL (see below).

“The end result is a healthy food product in either scenario. To say that one is better or more healthy than the other is, quite frankly, a stretch.”

There are also debates about animal treatment, environmental concerns and how antibiotics may impact bacteria strains. But those debates are separate from the nutrition and safety of the meat we ultimately eat.

Those comments were markedly different than those from producers of specialty meats

Ritchie Roberts of Double R Cattle Services Farm near Hillsborough said,

“I know that my beef is all grass-fed and handled correctly and is super good and nutritious for you ’cause I know what goes into it. and I have control of that. It boils down to that sense of being able to support maybe a local industry and that’s really where the benefits of organic come in.”

Draft owner Dean Ogan says, “The most important thing for us is to know where it came from, know who produced it, know the process.”

All worthy objectives — that have nothing to do with safety.

FDA with expanded powers buckles to industry demands on antibiotic testing?***

I got a phone call about this story about 10 days ago while visiting family in Minnesota. I checked it out, thought there was merit, but there were many agendas at play.

The N.Y. Times apparently got the same phone call, checked it out, and is running with a story tonight about government and industry and antibiotic residues in culled dairy cattle.

It’s not clear who’s an advocate for what in these kinds of stories. Excerpts below.

Each year, U.S. inspectors find illegal levels of antibiotics in hundreds of older dairy cows bound for the slaughterhouse. Concerned that those antibiotics might also be contaminating the milk Americans drink, the Food and Drug Administration intended to begin tests this month on the milk from farms that had repeatedly sold cows tainted by drug residue.

But the testing plan met with fierce protest from the dairy industry, which said that it could force farmers to needlessly dump millions of gallons of milk while they waited for test results. Industry officials and state regulators said the testing program was poorly conceived and could lead to costly recalls that could be avoided with a better plan for testing.

In response, the F.D.A. postponed the testing, and now the two sides are sparring over how much danger the antibiotics pose and the best way to ensure that the drugs do not end up in the milk supply.

“What has been served up, up to this point, by Food and Drug has been potentially very damaging to innocent dairy farmers,” said John J. Wilson, a senior vice president for Dairy Farmers of America, the nation’s largest dairy cooperative. He said that that the nation’s milk was safe and that there was little reason to think that the slaughterhouse findings would be replicated in tests of the milk supply.”

But food safety advocates said that the F.D.A.’s preliminary findings raised issues about the possible overuse of antibiotics in livestock, which many fear could undermine the effectiveness of drugs to combat human illnesses.”

The F.D.A. said that it would confer with the industry before deciding how to proceed. “The agency remains committed to gathering the information necessary to address its concern with respect to this important potential public health issue,” it said in a statement.

The concerns of federal regulators stem from tests done by the Department of Agriculture on dairy cows sent to be slaughtered at meat plants. For years, those tests have found a small but persistent number of animals with drug residues, mostly antibiotics, that violate legal limits.

The tests found 788 dairy cows with residue violations in 2008, the most recent year for which data was available. That was a tiny fraction of the 2.6 million dairy cows slaughtered that year, but regulators say the violations are warning signs because the problem persists from year to year and some of the drugs detected are not approved for use in dairy cows.

“F.D.A. is concerned that the same poor management practices which led to the meat residues may also result in drug residues in milk,” the agency said in a document explaining its plan to the industry. In the same document, the F.D.A. said it believed that the nation’s milk supply was safe.

Today, every truckload of milk is tested for four to six antibiotics that are commonly used on dairy farms. The list includes drugs like penicillin and ampicillin, which are also prescribed for people. Each year, only a small number of truckloads are found to be “hot milk,” containing trace amounts of antibiotics. In those cases, the milk is destroyed.

But dairy farmers use many more drugs that are not regularly tested for in milk. Regulators are concerned because some of those other drugs have been showing up in the slaughterhouse testing.

Federal officials have discussed expanded testing for years. But industry executives said that it was not until last month that the F.D.A. told them it was finally going to begin.

The agency said that it planned to test milk from about 900 dairy farms that had repeatedly been caught sending cows to slaughter with illegal levels of drugs in their systems.

It said it would test for about two dozen antibiotics beyond the six that are typically tested for. The testing would also look for a painkiller and anti-inflammatory drug popular on dairy farms, called flunixin, which often shows up in the slaughterhouse testing.

The problem, from the industry’s point of view, is the lengthy time it takes for test results.

Resistance is not futile; antimicrobial use in agriculture

In 1969, the Swann report recommended strict oversight and restrictions on the use of antibiotics used in human medicine as growth promoters in agriculture. That was in the U.K., and 31 years later, the debate about the use of antimicrobials in agriculture continues.

The USA Today today and the N.Y. Times on Friday both waded into the issue in advance of House hearing on the issue on Wednesday.

USA Today said in an editorial that,

"high-volume use of antibiotics in animals is a dangerous avenue for the evolution of drug-resistant bacteria that can eventually spread to humans. But, in a classic case of the public interest taking a back seat to private commercial interests, the farm lobby has for decades successfully fought restrictions on animal use of antibiotics. Now federal regulators and some members of Congress are making a worthy new push to rein in hazardous practices.

“The Food and Drug Administration is sufficiently concerned that it issued a detailed, 19-page "draft guidance" last month that calls on the agriculture industry to voluntarily end the "injudicious" use of drugs to help animals grow, which it said "poses a qualitatively higher risk to public health" than using the drugs selectively to cure or prevent disease.”

The FDA says 30 years of studies point unmistakably to a hazard from overuse of antibiotics in animals.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says humans could pick up drug-resistant bugs through contact with animals or by eating contaminated food; it cites the example of Campylobacter bacteria, which lives in chicken intestines and can cause diarrhea in humans who eat undercooked chicken.

In 1995, the FDA approved the use of fluoroquinolone antibiotics in chickens. Soon, though, doctors began to find Campylobacter strains in sick people that were resistant to fluoroquinolone, and the FDA eventually banned the antibiotic for use in chickens.

Dr. Howard Hill, a veterinarian and a director of the National Pork Producers Council, writes in an opposing view,

“America’s livestock farmers use antibiotics to keep their animals healthy and, in turn, to produce safe food for consumers. And, contrary to the opponents of modern food-animal production, antibiotics are not being given excessively to pigs and cattle, and their use in livestock production is not the likely cause for an increase in antibiotic resistance in humans.

A 2006 report from the Institute of Food Technologists concluded: "Eliminating antibiotic drugs from food-animal production may have little positive effect on resistant bacteria that threaten human health. … Who knows? The risk of not using antibiotics could outweigh any risk of using them.

Elizabeth Parker, chief veterinarian at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, wrote in Friday’s Times in response to a June 30 editorial that,

“Ranchers have an obligation to protect cattle health and welfare. We also have an obligation to protect human health by providing a safe beef supply. That’s why, for generations, cattle producers have worked closely with veterinarians in the careful use of antibiotics to prevent, control and treat disease.”

Judicious use guidelines have been around a lot longer than last month. It’s a way of an industry group saying, hey, we know this is a powerful technology, so we’ll use it carefully in order to retain access to the technology.

But, judicious use can evolve into routine use. The challenge is maximize the benefits of a technology while minimizing the risk. Science can be messy.

Safe food is food that doesn’t make you barf; don’t like it, make your own definition

“Just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in.”

That’s from the truly terrible movie, The Godfather III (see below), but I prefer Sil’s impersonation on the truly terrific television series, The Soprano’s (right).

Safe food is food that doesn’t make you barf.

At least that’s my definition. Food safety has come to mean all things to all people, but to me, food safety is about minimizing the chemical, physical and especially microbial risks that can be found in food. The risks that make up to 30 per cent of all people in all countries barf every year (or at least that’s the number the World Health Organization says; when are those updated U.S. numbers coming out?)

Animal welfare, genetic engineering, local/organic/natural, trans fat and fat kids, these are all bandied about under the rubric of food safety, but have little or nothing to do with safety. These issues are valid on their own but are primarily about lifestyle choices and food porn. Americans love choice.

And to talk.

Reminds me of that scene from Monty Python’s, The Meaning of Life, when death visits the dinner party:

“Shut up. Shut up you Americans. You always talk, you Americans. You always talk and you talk and you say, ‘Let me tell you something,’ and ‘I just wanna say this.’ Well you’re dead now, so shut up.”

(Python food safety note: The dinner guests all died at the same time from presumably botulism in the salmon mousse. “Darling, you didn’t use canned salmon, did you?”)

Every time I focus on core food safety issues, someone tries to pull me back in to lifestyle debates. Sure I dabbled in genetic engineering and food production systems – doesn’t everyone in college – but I got enough to do focusing on the things that make people barf.

For the past week, the Intertubes have been pneumonically spewing out messages about the risks of antimicrobials in animal husbandry since a CBS News so-called special report aired on the issue.

Antimicrobial resistance is one of those persistent ag issues where — like me crossing the border into the U.S. – every journalist or customs officer thinks she’s discovered something no one else has yet.

They’re always wrong.

Antimicrobial resistance has been on the public agenda since the Swann report of 1969. It’s a risk, it needs to be managed, just like any other risk, to maximize benefits and minimize risk.

But leave it to Whole Foods to go over-the-top, in a blog post entitled, Our meat: No antibiotics, EVER!

(The capitalization and exclamation marks are from the Whole Foods original blog post, the authors and editors who apparently think their readers have disorders and need to be bashed with punctuation and capitalization)

Theo Weening, the national meat buyer for Whole Foods Market, says he “can assure our customers that our standard is: No antibiotics, EVER! We work very hard to make sure that the people who produce our meat have raised their animals without the use of antibiotics, growth hormones* or animal byproducts in the feed.”

Meat-buyer Weening fails to distinguish between the routine use of antibiotics as growth promotants and the use of antibiotics to treat animals that are sick. Should sick animals be deprived antibiotics? Wouldn’t that go against animal welfare standards?

And note the asterick beside the no growth hormone BS. At the end of the blog post, there is an asterick with the comment, “*Federal regulations prohibit the use of growth hormones in raising pigs, veal calves, bison and poultry.”

Tyson already tried this line of labeling. Didn’t work. Whole Foods is hopeless.

What I really want to know is if the Whole Foods or any other steak has been needle tenderized or not so I can adjust my cooking temperature (as verified by a tip-sensitive digital thermometer). Those are the kinds of things that make people barf.

Court says Tyson chicken antibiotic claims must stop

Hucksterism. That’s how I characterized the marketing by Tyson Foods Inc. of its antibiotic-free fresh chicken almost a year ago.

A couple of judges have now agreed.

Today, a federal appeals court in Baltimore refused to block an order barring Tyson Foods from advertising that its poultry products don’t contain antibiotics thought to lead to drug resistance in humans.

The lower court ruling was a victory for rivals Perdue Farms and Sanderson Farms, who are suing to stop the advertisements. The two companies say the advertisements are misleading because none of the companies uses those types of drugs and shoppers could be led to think other companies use the drugs.

I continue to look forward to the day when food is marketed and advertised based on the lack of dangerous bugs that make people barf and shit.