The meat you buy at the grocery store comes from a variety of sources which in turn have an eclectic plethora of strategies on growing these animals.
One big factor is the use of antibiotics in animals. This is important that alterations in meat from the bacteria as well as the residual antibiotic in the meat consumed has led to an exponential rise of antibiotic resistant organisms that we may at times suffer from as a disease.
Statement of the problem
An astonishing amount of antibiotic, 300 mg of antibiotics is used in production of every kilogram of meat and eggs. Estimation of the seriousness of the role of animal reservoir in emerging antibiotic resistant bacteria in humans is no easy task.
Emerging evidence suggests that while the main culprit is the indiscriminate antibiotic use by us, the antibiotic use in animals continues to play increasing role.
Originally the antibiotics were used to treat or stave off infections. However, little known fact from recent times is that antibiotics are frequently used to promote growth in these animals, thus bigger the animal, the greater the pay off!
Stokestad and Jukes reported very low sub-therapeutic doses of antibiotics (1/10 to 1/100 of the therapeutic dose) administered animals in feed improves feed-to-weight ratio for poultry, swine, and beef cattle. This allowed the practice to become widespread while ignoring the potential for deleterious consequences on human health.
Effect of antibiotic use in animals on farm dwellers/workers
Subsequent studies found that animal growth promotants (AGPs) resulted in more resistant bacteria in the gut of not just the farm animals but also the farm workers as compared to when AGPs were not used.
A landmark study reported in 1976 by Levy and colleagues and published in the New England Journal of Medicine examined the impact of low-dose oxytetracycline as an AGP on the intestinal bacteria of chickens and farm workers.
Amazingly, investigators found not only the chickens with antibiotic resistant bacteria but also in the gut of the family living on the farm.
Consequences of antibiotic use in animals
According to Price and colleagues from the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), Pathogen Genomics Division, Flagstaff, Arizona, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus clonal complex 398 (CC398) since its discovery in the early 2000s,has become a rapidly emerging cause of human infections, most often associated with livestock exposure.
Their findings suggest a bidirectional exchange between animals and humans and highlight underscore the public health risks of antibiotic used meat animals.
According to World Health organization, “A crisis has been building up over decades, meaning that today common yet life-threatening infections are becoming difficult or even impossible to treat. It is time to take much stronger action worldwide to avert an ever-increasing health and economic burden.”
How do altered bacteria contaminate the food chain?
Contamination resulting in animal to human transmission occurs not just via food but also directly by contact and indirectly via the food chain, water, air, and use of manure in food farm soil. Bacteria continue to survive to some extent in skin as well as feces and then make their way into not just the meat but also people as well as equipment involved in handling or cooking the meat.
Are there any more problems beyond resistant bacteria?
Beyond the obvious increased prevalence of antibiotic resistant bacteria, the altered meat and or the antibiotic may affect down the food chain, including but not limited to our intestinal milieu, especially our intestinal bacteria and our internal ecological balance.
Effect on human health
The antibiotic use in animals affects not just the health of people on the farm but distant people along the food chain who consume it.
Factors affecting health consequences:
- Type of antibiotic
- Dose of antibiotic
- Any other drugs used
- Number of animals treated
Relationship between diet, intestinal bacteria and health status has been clearly established, and suggests that diet-driven changes in intestinal bacteria correlate with health decline.
Just one example of Clostridium difficile—a potential next big killer
C. difficile is seen as bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract most mammals and birds. In addition to the increasing resistance, its infection early in life has been linked to diverse disorders. Although there is no direct evidence proving transmission of Clostridium difficile from animals to humans, strong circumstantial evidence suggests that it might be a zoonotic disease.
Effect of reduced antibiotic use on antibiotic resistance in meat animals
Agers from the National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark, writing in the Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy demonstrated that discontinuation of an already low use of cephalosporin antibiotics in pig production has significantly reduces the occurrence of resistant E. coli bacteria.
Why farmers don’t want to stop using antibiotics in farm animals?
- Antibiotics promote growth resulting in more meat per feed of financial benefit.
- However, the argument that stopping antibiotic use would lower the meat production may not be credible based on experience in Denmark.
- Diminishing antibiotic use in animals has actualy resulted in increase in pork production, This has been termed--The “Bacon Boost” Similar lack of adverse effects has been documented in poultry as well.
Beware of the many vested interests
In addition to purported benefit of growth of animals and hence more money for farmers:
- Veterinarians who sell antibiotics to farmers
- Pharmaceutical companies who manufacture antibiotics/drugs
- Lobbyists who lobby against regulation of antibiotic use in animals
- Politicians who get campaign donations from lobbyists
Are there alternatives to antibiotic use to promote animal growth?
Santini and colleagues suggest that an alternative and effective approach to antibiotic administration to livestock to reduce bacterial contamination is the use of probiotics. Just as in humans, this would help augment the animal’s natural defense mechanism against infections.
Baffoni and colleagues from the Department of Agro environmental Sciences and Technologies, University of Bologna, Bologna, Italy, have shown that a Bifidobacterium-based synbiotic product can reduce the transmission of C. jejuni bacteria in broiler chickens along the poultry food chain which is of course important for poultry consumers.
Role of healthy additive cocktails in animals
Rodriguez and colleagues from Spain have shown that cereal diets like Wheat- and barley-based diets with or without additives like enzymes (xylanase plus β-glucanase), prebiotic, probiotics affect broiler chicken performance, digestibility of the meat as well as intestinal bacteria of the chicken.
Can the alternate options make up for the growth promoting effects of AGPs
Improve farming practices and breeding programs:
- Reduced animal density
- Improved hygienic conditions
- Judicious use of antibiotics
- Use of additives like enzymes, prebiotics, probiotics, and vaccines
Above factors can more than make up for growth promoting effects of AGPs.
Graveland et al from the Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands studied MRSA bacterial colonization in veal calves and humans working and living on the MRSA in farm workers/dweller humans was 1% when less than 20% of the calves were carriers. In contrast, humans had greater than 10% prevalence in farms with higher carrier prevalence in calves.
Benefits of manipulating bacteria in meat animals
The modulation of intestinal microflora in food animals without using any antibiotics would serve two purposes:
1) modulation of number and type of bacteria in animal’s gut would contribute to health and superior growth in the animal
2) Decrease transmission of pathogenic bacteria to humans reducing the possibility of foodborne disease,
The latter in turn would reduce disruption of normal healthy pattern of the human microbiota thus also reduce potential for chronic ailments associated with dysbiosis, e.g. allergic and inflammatory diseases etc.
Are there any other drugs in meat besides antibiotics
A Consumer Report study found small amounts of drug ractopamine used to promote growth. While it is legal in the U.S. America, it has been banned in many countries including China, European Union. Side-effects of this drug include anxiety and restlessness.
Are their actual antibiotics in meat you eat?
Yes indeed. Even though most meat is proclaimed to be antibiotic free, most of it does contain small amounts of a variety of antibiotics fed to the animals. The USDA is now using more sensitive tests for antibiotic detection after the USDA inspector general's report said, "the effects of these residues on human beings who consume such meat are a growing concern." Obviously, this issue has not been studied over long term but may be contributing to dysbiosis related diseases,
What are out regulatory agencies doing?
The European Union banned the use of antibiotics in food animals for growth. In Denmark, farmers suspected of inappropriately using antibiotics for non-infection reasons are issued a “Yellow card” akin to football games in the U.S.
Food and Drug Administration in the United States only asks voluntary cessation of antiotic and drug use and encourages judicious use. FDA works collaboratively with veterinary and animal producer organizations to develop and distribute information to support the judicious use of antimicrobial drugs in food-producing animals.
The Government Accountability Project (GAP) The Washington, D.C.-based non-profit advocacy organization has sued the FDA for declining request for information withheld data pertaining to the sale of antibiotics for use in food animals under the Freedom of Information Act.
Implications for us in nutshell
While there is no direct evidence of benefit, a prudent exercise may be:
- Infants and children in early life when their intestinal bacterial fingerprint is being established should not consumed antibiotic treated meat
- Kids/adults with psychological issues pursue organic meat in order to avoid effects of antibiotics as well as other drugs that affect brain.
- Patients with chronic disorders associated with dysbiosis, intestinal permeability or leaky gut and chronic low grade inflammatory state may best be served by avoiding antibiotic meats as well.
What is your opinion of organic meat versus non-organic meat? Is it worth the extra cost? Dr. Minocha would appreciate your thoughts/comments.
Read reviews of Guide to Alternative Medicine and the Digestive System
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