Minnesota Farmer

Super Bugs! Really?

I’ve been hearing some alarmists writing about the “super bugs” in our food system.  Are there really as many “super bugs” out there as some would have you believe.  I invite you to read the following article and then I have a few more things to say at the end.

Dr. Richard Raymond is the former undersecretary of agriculture for food safety.

Superbugs: Are they really everywhere?

I keep hearing from those who want radical change in the way Animal Agriculture raises animals for food that superbugs are everywhere as a result of Animal Ag’s antibiotic practices.

But I hope that these vocal groups do not understand the honest definition of a superbug. I hope they do not understand, because if they agree with the CDC and FDA about what a superbug is then they are intentionally trying to deceive the American public.

For the latest example, one only has to read the article in the Consumer Reports dated February 2014 (yes, that date is correct, but it was released this month) titled “The high cost of cheap chicken”.

CR claims that “Our tests reveal that superbugs can be found in about half of the chicken we tested, from stores across the country. Our test results found that 49.7 percent of our samples contained at least one multidrug-resistant bacterium.”

Evidently they consider multidrug resistant bacterium to be superbugs.

In response to the Environmental Working Group’s written interpretation of the Food and Drug Administration’s February, 2013, National Antibiotic Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS) report, FDA said:

“It is inaccurate and alarmist to define the bacteria resistant to one, or even a few, antimicrobials as Superbugs if these same bacteria are still treatable by other commonly used antibiotics.”

This statement could also apply to the CR report and to the furor over the recent West Coast Salmonella outbreak where many referred to the multidrug resistant Salmonella as superbugs and called for their being labeled as adulterants.

But the Salmonella in that outbreak showed no resistance to the three most “commonly used antibiotics” to treat Salmonellosis.  By the FDA’s definition, these were NOT superbugs.

Does the CR article tell us which antibiotics these bacteria were resistant to?

Nope, and I am guessing there is a good reason for this omission.

Consumer Reports does go on to say that these bugs they are calling superbugs were resistant to three or more antibiotics, despite FDA’s admonition a few months ago that this was an inaccurate and alarmist practice.

CR also states that “Our findings were similar to what the FDA sees in its NARMS of retail meat.”

Really? If one takes the time to actually read the NARMS report, it says quite clearly that “commonly used antibiotics” to treat Campylobacter and Salmonella remain highly effective with little resistance seen and no change from previous years. They found no superbugs in the retail meat and poultry they sampled.

Final line, the bacteria in the CR testing are not superbugs and I am being very lenient in assuming Consumer Reports, the Environmental Working Group and the West Coast media just do not know the proper definition as supported by the FDA and CDC.

Let’s have an honest discussion about the use of antibiotics used in animals raised for food, but let’s base it on science and facts, not hyperbole and inaccurate statements.”

 So I have to agree with Mr. Raymond, there seem to be people screaming about “super bugs” but no real evidence of any in our food system.  The fact is that most food related illnesses could have been prevented by proper food preparation.  Those so-called “super bugs” in our food are only a danger to those who insist on eating improperly prepared food.
The fact is that our food system in the developed world is safer than at anytime in history.  Any antibiotics that may have been used while livestock are being produced have to be completely out of the animals system before they can be sold.  There are no antibiotics used without a veterinarians say so.
Super bugs are much more likely to develop in the humans population than in livestock, since people use many more antibiotics than do our livestock.  Modern livestock production has developed methods of production to keep animals healthy that depend on keeping animals from getting sick in the first place.  It is much cheaper to keep animals healthy than to treat the sick ones.
So don’t panic.  Your food is safe if you do your part.

1 Comment so far
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I couldn’t refrain from commenting. Very well written!

Comment by furniture row utah

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