Texas Tech University researchers examined particulate matter in the air, finding both antibiotics and antibiotic-resistant bacteria in samples taken downwind from cattle ranches. Investigators are worried that this material could be carried by wind into populated areas, hindering treatments for potentially dangerous diseases. Over 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the United States are used in cattle to lengthen lives and improve yields.
The 10 ranches examined in the study were all located within 200 miles of the city of Lubbock, with samples being taken over a period of six months. The investigation focused on feedlots in the South Plains and Panhandle of Texas. Cattle at these facilities are exposed to large quantities of antibiotics as they are fattened up before they are brought to market.
"To our knowledge, this study is among the first to detect and quantify antibiotics and antibiotic-resistant genes ... associated with airborne PM emitted from beef cattle feed yards," environmental toxicology researchers at Texas Tech University said.Sometimes there are scares about "avian flu" (a viral agent) and masses of poultry get slaughtered, usually in some Asian market. The idea that a bacteriological agent could infect large numbers of cattle in the US, and the accompanying notion of what might be needed to combat a massive outbreak of the same, here, and what it would cost the meat industry, here, strikes me as potentially very devastating to a significant portion of the US. To an extent, it's only possible because of the high concentrations of antibiotics already in use in regular feedlot treatment of food livestock. But an epidemic would affect all cattle ranchers, including organic non-CAFO operations. Basically, it could financially wipe some farmers out, especially if they had to find some way to cull part of or all of their stocks and isolate some other parts--under these conditions, how is that even--?
It's not an unexpected turn of biological events, but knowing some "worst case" scenario has been instantiated is pretty depressing.