Trump World Grab-Bag--A Collection

Friday, April 3, 2015

Antibiotic-Resistant and Airborne--It's Evolution, Baby

I don't think I give as much shrift to my concerns about sustainable agriculture and the many problems of our agricultural-industrial complex on this blog as I should, but if you wanted a glimpse into the kind of thing that really haunts me, why, this would be it:

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.

2 comments:

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

The problem is STAT (sub-therapeutic antibiotic treatment) to foster quick growth in livestock. A while back, the monthly Secret Science Club lecture touched on this.

It's a completely asinine use for antibiotics. We really need to make our peace with microbes- again, this month's Secret Science Club lecture touched on this topic.

It may be that probiotics become just as important as antibiotics if current trends continue.

mikey said...

Even the most rudimentary root cause analysis leads to a single inescapable conclusion. Planet Earth cannot sustain 7 billion humans, let alone the coming 10 billion. There's just not enough useable space for them to live and grow enough food. The reason the antibiotics are 'necessary' is that herds living in the kind of density they do on ranches would always be riddled by disease.

And with the emerging economies seeing higher per capita incomes, those people want their high quality protein and their cars and their air conditioning too.

Either the planet self-corrects and kills off two thirds of the human population preemptively, or that will be the ultimate outcome anyway.

You kind of have to wonder how common this problem is for intelligent species around the universe. As they develop technology, their population increases and they end up with resource shortfalls and environmental problems. I suspect most industrial societies don't find a way past this problem...