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Thursday, June 1, 2023

Animal factory farms cause rise of superbugs says research

Animal factory farms are contributing to the rise of superbugs says research by the non-profit global animal welfare organization World Animal Protection (WAP). The study indicates that the environment near large factory farms in the US (United States) is mainly responsible for the build-up of superbugs, bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics used to fight the bacteria, in humans thereby posing a huge health hazard.

A report in Newsweek says:

An investigation conducted by global animal welfare non-profit World Animal Protection (WAP) identified what are known as “antibiotic resistance genes” (ARGs) in waterways and soils near these farms that could pose a significant threat to public health, according to a report shared exclusively with Newsweek.

In October 2020, investigators took 45 water samples and 45 soil samples from eight sites in eastern North Carolina both downstream and upstream of industrial pig farms. These samples were then analyzed to identify whether 23 target ARGs were present.

The area from where the samples were taken features a heavy concentration of large pig farms, which discharge waste into waterways and spread pig waste on local crop fields.

Factory farms—where large numbers of animals are confined to cages or barren concrete pens—routinely use antibiotics to mask poor welfare conditions and prevent stressed animals from getting sick. But this overuse of antibiotics can lead to the emergence of superbugs, which are considered one of the most significant global health threats.

The WAP researchers found that all the water and soil samples they tested returned a positive result for at least one ARG. In addition, 92 percent of samples displayed positive results for three or more different ARGs.

Senior Scientist Michael Hansen said that ARGs are that allow bacteria to resist certain antibiotics that the bacteria had earlier been sensitive to. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria that originate on farms are capable of spreading their resistance genes to harmful bacteria already present in the environment. This leads to a situation where the dose of antibiotics needs to be increased so as to kill the bacteria.

Furthermore, bacteria that originate on farms are capable of picking up resistance to important drugs due to the presence of ARGs in the environment. Hansen opined that the use of antibiotics on farms often leads to various bacteria releasing plasmids with antibiotic resistance genes on them.

Plasmids moving between bacteria pick up numerous ARGs that develop resistance to three or more classes of antibiotics in them. Superbugs are bacteria resistant to three or more classes of antibiotics. Research by WAP has discovered that the environment around animal factory farms indicates that these farms play a significant role in the spread of antibiotic resistance to the environment and thereby put communities residing around these farms at risk.

Newsweek quotes WAP Farming Campaign Manager Cameron Harsh as saying:

The results of the report raise “concerns that multi-drug resistance is common in this environment. Multi-drug-resistant bacteria pose a significant health threat as they are able to survive treatment with several antibiotics. Genes indicating resistance to critically important medicines were also found in several samples.

Genes conveying resistance to a class of antibiotic drugs known as tetracyclines were identified in nearly all the samples taken for the study. Tetracycline-resistance genes have been detected in some previous studies testing in the region, but the high rate of positive results is particularly significant.

We know that the pig industry is the largest market for tetracycline antibiotics sold to farmed animals in the U.S., and farmer surveys have indicated frequent reliance on these drugs. Surveillance of antibiotic-resistant bacteria occurs in human health settings on certain retail meats, and on farmed animals at slaughter in the United States. But the monitoring of resistant bacteria in the environment at this time is limited.

Reports state that nearly seven hundred thousand people are killed by superbugs annually at present and this number would only rise to 10 million deaths every year unless the issue of the spread of superbugs from animal factory farms is addressed.

(Featured Image Source: Newsweek)

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