There’s no question that animal antibiotics are being overused in factory farms, leading to drug-resistant bacteria that go on to attack humans. Antibiotics are administered to animals in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) to make them bigger and fatter faster and to keep diseases from spreading like wildfire in their cramped, often unsanitary conditions. It’s not about keeping the animals healthy: it’s about preserving large-scale livestock farmers’ bottom line.
CBS News had this report:
(CBS) “It’s scary, I mean, you just can’t describe it really,” said Bill Reeves.
Two years ago, 46-year-old Bill Reeves, who worked at a poultry processing plant in Batesville, Arkansas, developed a lump under his right eye.
“It went from about the size of a mosquito bite to about the size of a grapefruit,” he said.
CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric reports doctors tried several drugs that usually work on this potentially deadly infection: methicillin resistant staph or MRSA - before one saved his life.
“You go from a just regular day to knowing you may die in a couple of hours,” Reeves said.
He wasn’t the only worker from this farming community to get sick. Joyce Long worked at the hatchery, handling eggs and chicks. She got MRSA at least a dozen times, and had to try several drugs as well.
“It was real painful. Shots don’t help, because it’s so infected, it don’t help much,” she said.
Within weeks, 37 people at the hatchery got sick. They’ve filed personal injury claims against the company, Pilgrims Pride, which has no comment.
This is not an isolated incident and chickens aren’t the only concern. A University of Iowa study last year, found a new strain of MRSA — in nearly three-quarters of hogs (70 percent), and nearly two-thirds of the workers (64 percent) — on several farms in Iowa and Western Illinois. All of them use antibiotics, routinely. On antibiotic-free farms no MRSA was found.
Health officials are concerned if workers who handle animals are getting sick - what about the rest of us? Drug resistant infections have sky-rocketed over the past two decades, killing an estimated 70,000 Americans last year alone. It’s an emerging health crisis that scientists say is caused not only by the overuse of antibiotics in humans, but in livestock as well. Antibiotics fed to healthy animals to promote growth and prevent disease.
“My fear is that one of these days we are going to have an organism that’s resistant to everything that we know, and we’ll be left powerless,” said Thomas Cummins, Batesville’s chief medical officer.