Drug Resistant Bacterial Passed to Humans Via FoodApr 18, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
The use of antibiotics and other anti-microbial agents throughout the food chain seems to be contributing to the growth of resistant bacteria, which can be passed on to humans through food, according to the European Union’s (EU) food agency. It is common knowledge that infectious diseases become resistant to bacteria because of antibiotic overuse and abuse. When antibiotics are used for a virus, such as the common cold, they have no effect. But people want antibiotics and doctors will prescribe them. We prescribe antibiotics; bacteria adapt. We overuse or misuse antibiotics; bacteria mutate, changing just enough to ensure antibiotics have no effect on them and giving them a wide berth to spread with ever more power.
As anti-microbials become less effective in fighting infections, bacteria resistance has become a growing concern, according to a statement issued by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), adding that this issue has coincided with increased bacterial resistance to anti-microbial agents in animals. The EFSA cited a draft opinion paper by one of its expert panels researching the causes of the growing and diverse range of resistant bacteria and bacteria-borne resistant genes. The EFSA said hygiene controls should be tightened at every stage of the food chain, including in veterinary medicine and food processing and preparation so that the development and spread of antimicrobial resistance could be halted. The main foods carrying antimicrobial resistant bacteria were poultry meat, eggs, pork, or beef as well as fresh salads, all of which can be contaminated during preparation, handling, and processing. The panel also found that bacteria could be passed directly to people from contaminated food of animal origin carrying resistant bacteria and that such bacteria could colonize and infect people after ingestion. Bacteria could also be passed on to humans consuming fresh produce from land irrigated with contaminated water and food of both animal and non-animal origin could be contaminated during handling and preparation.
Meanwhile, antibiotic resistance is so pervasive scientists report evidence of drug-repelling E. coli in Arctic birds as remote as the polar ice cap: Migratory fowl circumnavigating the globe along centuries-old flyways passed the bacteria. Scientists in Sweden traveled to vast regions of the ice cap to find species they hoped had been spared exposure to drug-resistant strains and discovered widespread antibiotic-resistant E. coli in Arctic-dwelling birds never previously exposed to the drugs. Mostly fecal samples from nearly 100 birds in three geographic regions: Northeastern Siberia; Point Barrow, Alaska; and northern Greenland were studied. Although thousands of miles apart, the locations are linked through looping migratory flyways.
Dr. Stuart B. Levy, president of the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics at Boston’s Tufts University, said there’s no way to stop migrating flocks. "Birds feeding on feces will carry it and deliver it elsewhere." Birds become exposed stepping in infected feces and migratory birds are exposed in many ways, including through food and water, in regions where antibiotics are routinely misused. Levy helps consumers understand the dangers of drug-resistance—fewer drugs to treat serious infections—emphasizing that resistance is environmentally widespread, even waterways are impacted as sewage and agricultural runoff expose fish.