Superbugs flying from factory farms

Superbugs have gone airborne, announced researchers at Texas Tech University.

Antibiotic-resistant genes evolving in crowded feedlots have escaped to the air and are now capable of traveling long distances, said the scientists, who have been analyzing the particulate matter blowing over the Texas Panhandle and South Plains from the facilities.


The researchers found that the particulates blowing downwind from the feedlots contained up to 4,000 percent more antibiotic-resistant bacteria DNA than the particulates blowing upwind.

About 5 million beef annually are raised for slaughter in the Texas feedlots.

“This is the first test that has opened our eyes to the fact that we could be breathing these things,” environmental toxicologist Phil Smith told the Texas Tribune.

“The ‘aha’ moment came when we saw how much more prevalent resistant sequences were downwind than upwind,” said molecular biologist Greg Mayer. “It made me not want to breathe.”

The scientists began their research hoping to obtain insight on how antibiotic-resistant bacteria develop and spread. They chose to study feedlots because of the high concentrations of antibiotics found there.

They are used not only to treat infections, but are used extensively to promote growth. Eighty percent of antibiotics consumed in the U.S. are administered to livestock.

The cooped-up cattle are fed heavily on corn and soy— not natural to their digestive systems— and excrete large amounts of antibodies which dry and get picked up in the wind.

It is calculated that about 46,000 pounds of particulate matter containing antibiotic-resistant DNA is released daily in the air over Texas, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma.

This new study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, has raised concerns about the potential of airborne bacteria touching down and transferring their antibiotic resistance to other bacteria in their new environment.

Two million Americans annually now contract a superbug that does not respond to traditional antibiotics, and 23,000 die.

The European Union and many other countries ban the use of antibiotics for livestock growth promotion, while China and the U.S. are by far the world’s biggest users of antibiotics for that purpose.

And a recent study predicted a 67 percent increase in antibiotic use in food animals over the next 15 years.

According to U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), the U.S. is about 10 years behind more responsible countries in reducing the use of antibiotics.

However, the White House has demonstrated its health concerns by asking Congress for $1.2 billion to ‘study’ the matter further.


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