- Worried scientists say farmers using
antibiotics in chickens, cattle and fruit orchards are creating drug-resistant
germs farther down the food chain than ever, a disturbing twist on the
growing concern that antibiotics are fast losing their power.
- Scientists have long suspected that farming
was adding to the problem of antibiotic resistance, but now say they're
finding the first strong evidence: A salmonella strain impervious to five
antibiotics is rampant in Britain. U.S. scientists this month estimated
it has sickened thousands of Americans, too -- including nearly killing
a Vermont dairy farmer. Chickens sold in Minnesota were contaminated with
another germ, campylobacter, which is resistant to a powerful antibiotic.
- The U.S. government is about to impose
stiff new requirements on makers of new animal antibiotics, and the World
Health Organization is calling on experts to Geneva next week to search
for other solutions.
- "We're at the point right now where
we...have got to do something," says Minnesota epidemiologist Michael
Osterholm, who discovered the campylobacter risk. "This can't continue."
- "We know there is a problem,"
agrees WHO's Dr. Klaus Stohr.
- Some industry groups deny there's proof
that antibiotics on the farm harm human health. "We don't know if
it's true or not," says Kenneth May of the National Broiler Council.
- Others acknowledge some risk, but insist
it must be balanced with the realization that antibiotics are vital to
- If farm antibiotics are restricted, "the
real question is what will it do to the world's food supply?" says
microbiologist Gail Cassell of Eli Lilly & Co. "My plea is that
we need more data."
- But the Food and Drug Administration
considers the threat serious enough that it is preparing stiffer rules
for new animal antibiotics, including requiring manufacturers to track
treated animals for early resistance signs.
- "There will be predetermined conditions
of when the drug cannot be used anymore," says FDA veterinary chief
Stephen Sundlof. The requirements "may just be too unpalatable for
drug companies to accept."
- Antibiotics are fast losing their power
against numerous germs, particularly those spread in hospitals. Most to
blame are doctors who overprescribe drugs and patients who take them improperly.
- But scientists say antibiotics on the
farm are helping foodborne germs mutate, too. Almost half the 50 million
pounds of U.S.-produced antibiotics is used in animals -- 80 percent to
help animals grow faster, not treat disease -- and 40,000 pounds are sprayed
onto fruit trees.