BugWars: Good News, Bad News

Good news, as far as it goes, per the NYTimes:

The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday put in place a major new policy to phase out the indiscriminate use of antibiotics in cows, pigs and chickens raised for meat, a practice that experts say has endangered human health by fueling the growing epidemic of antibiotic resistance.

This is the agency’s first serious attempt in decades to curb what experts have long regarded as the systematic overuse of antibiotics in healthy farm animals, with the drugs typically added directly into their feed and water. The waning effectiveness of antibiotics — wonder drugs of the 20th century — has become a looming threat to public health. At least two million Americans fall sick every year and about 23,000 die from antibiotic-resistant infections…

The changes, originally proposed in 2012, are voluntary for drug companies. But F.D.A. officials said they believed that the companies would comply, based on discussions during the public comment period. The two drug makers that represent a majority of such antibiotic products — Zoetis and Elanco — have already stated their intent to participate, F.D.A. officials said. Companies will have three months to tell the agency whether they will change the labels, and three years to carry out the new rules.

Additionally, the agency is requiring that licensed veterinarians supervise the use of antibiotics, effectively requiring farmers and ranchers to obtain prescriptions to use the drugs for their animals.

“It’s a big shift from the current situation, in which animal producers can go to a local feed store and buy these medicines over the counter and there is no oversight at all,” said Michael Taylor, the F.D.A.’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine…

Cynics will note a few sour notes — it’s a ‘voluntary’ program, producers have three more years to set up legal workarounds, and it doesn’t restrict the use of antibiotics ‘for disease prevention’ (an important consideration when hundreds or thousands of genetically monotyped animals are crammed into filthy, undersized quarters).

But it’s better than nothing, especially since we don’t seem to be finding new antibiotics as fast as the bugs are developing resistance to the ones we have:

One of the most devastating pandemics in human history, the Black Death — also known as the plague — killed more than 25 million people in Europe, Asia, and North Africa at its peak between 1348 and 1350. And it has re-emerged in Madagascar.

Last year, 60 people died there from the bubonic plague — the highest death toll in the world. And last week, 20 people from a single remote village died from it.

Madagascar’s Pasteur Institute, which confirmed that the deaths had occurred due to plague, is worried that the plague may now spread to towns and cities due to unsanitary conditions…

And the news gets worse: Today, two cases of the deadlier pneumonic plague — which unlike bubonic plague, can be transmitted from human to human — were confirmed.

The plague is usually treatable with antibiotics, especially if detected early, but the danger of outbreaks like this is that the plague may mutate into a more contagious and less treatable form. Antibiotic-resistant plague was first spotted in the wild as early as the 1990s, and antibiotic-resistant strains were developed by both the American and Soviet biological warfare programs during the Cold War…

36 replies
  1. 1
    Linda Featheringill says:

    Oh, goody. Drug resistant Yersinia pestis. Just what we need.

  2. 2
    Chickamin Slam says:

    You know what could solve bubonic plague? Another round of tax cuts for the rich. Surely that will solve the problem like it has solved so many others.

  3. 3
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    The root cause of all this, again, is human greed. Short term profit trumps long term survival of the species.

  4. 4
    amk says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    we came. we saw. we destroyed.

  5. 5
    Montarvillois says:

    Here’s a step in the right direction.

    From Reuters Sept. 13/13 – Privately owned Canadian hamburger chain A&W will buy only beef from cattle raised without added growth hormones or steroids, a move that adds costs but taps into growing consumer interest in how food is prepared.

  6. 6
    Schlemizel says:

    It might actually be worse than nothing. It may provide the illusion of improvement while not making things better. We are asking these factory farms & feedlots to forgo the easier money provided by using the drugs. People tend to do what they are rewarded for. I’d like to think they are more decent than that but nothing in my past experience tells me to expect it.

  7. 7
    OzarkHillbilly says:

    I have been particularly angered by the overuse of antibiotics ever since my youngest son almost lost his leg to an osteomyelitis that was an methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (better known as MRSA) when he was eleven years old. This was back in the good(bad) old days when this stuff was just coming about. They weren’t real sure about it’s various modes of transmission (CJ was written up in a journal because his was a ‘first’)(the ER Doc kept saying, “Don’t worry, it’s just not possible. His blood work got contaminated.”), treatment was still “experimental” to the extent that at the time they had no real certainty of what would or would not work (If the drug regimen they put him on didn’t start working in 2 days, they were going to amputate, there would be no time to try a 2nd) but it was all OK because it was very rare… Until one talked to a Doc. Than you got scared. If you aren’t scared now, you aren’t paying attention.

    Thank Dog for my union carpenters insurance. A week in the hospital in isolation, the drugs cost either 30K or 60K per week (give me a break, I can’t remember everything. I’m doing well to remember that I am 55 and that was 16 years ago) and he was on them for 6 weeks, with twice weekly visits from a nurse for PIC line maintenance and blood work to check his kidney function. My cost? $100 for the original 2 AM ER visit. Damn I miss it.

  8. 8
    JPL says:

    @Schlemizel: This! Congress now has an excuse not to act.

  9. 9
    WereBear says:

    @Linda Featheringill: Well, last time, it made the serf minimum wage go up.


    But we have got to get rid of the sick mentality of short term profit trumping EVERYTHING. Parasites, the lot of them; totally unable to create wealth.

  10. 10
    Tommy says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: There is a little bar I go to. Union carpenters.. Good people there.

    From there I will just say what you said!

  11. 11
    OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Schlemizel: The one reason that will cause me to raise chickens.

  12. 12
    kindness says:

    Why would a just God smite far flung lowly villagers when there are so many more deserving candidates here?

    God’s war on Christmas? Quick, call Fox.

  13. 13
    Tommy says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: The lady behind me, we are thinking about chickens. We were told we could’nt do this. She laughed at my city and said stop me (we are in an uncorporated part). She now has a lot of rabbits. Chickens coming.

  14. 14
    OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Tommy: There is nothing in the world that is better than working on a good crew on a good job. That whole tired and over hyped thing called “team work”? It’s actually fun.

    I really miss it.

  15. 15
    JPL says:

    @Tommy: This is what happens in my neck of the woods. link I could see the smoke from where I live.

  16. 16
    Tommy says:

    @JPL: Wow. I read your link. Not sure we will can have chickens here. I recall in the last few years the folks that life around me wanted to build this or that. My city asked me if I was cool with that. I was of course I am, it is their land, they can do as they want.

    She has like a bunny run in her backyard. Not meant to eat. Her daughter just got a lung transplant. She likes her bunny.

    Her mother and I am kind of hippie liberals and we ponder of having some chickens. Not to eat, but to get their eggs. People are freaked out about it. But them she had to take an AIDS test to get her license to give a massage here.

  17. 17
    OzarkHillbilly says:

    @JPL: Jeebus. And people worry about the Feds and the NSA? Not to belittle that situation, but your local government is and always has been far more dangerous. And the smaller the town, the greater the danger.

  18. 18
    Sherparick says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: or “Radix malorum est cupiditas.” as translated by St. Jerome from the Greek New Testament 1Timothy 6:10 (funny how the fundies in the Republican Party seem to not only rewrite the Constitution but the Bible to suit their interests and prejudices.

    In many ways I bitch and moan about life as lead by most Americans and Europeans the last 65 years, and how the game has been rigged since Reagan to firehose money into to the pockets of the .01% (that six Walton family members have a combined net worth than the combined net worth of the 60% of the American people is something of a medieval distribution of wealth), but I expect it will appear a golden age when compared to the 1st half of the 20th century and the environmental catastrophes that will unfold in the 21st.

  19. 19
    Cassidy says:

    @JPL: how true is all of that? Not questioning you or calling you a liar, just genuinely interested as the “article” reads like a McLaren comment instead of a news article; it’s a little one sided.

  20. 20
    cmorenc says:


    It might actually be worse than nothing. It may provide the illusion of improvement while not making things better. We are asking these factory farms & feedlots to forgo the easier money provided by using the drugs. People tend to do what they are rewarded for.

    The big operations will simply have a staff or contract veterinarian who will rubber-stamp antibiotic prescriptions for 10k animals at a time. For smaller farmers, every farming area will have at least one veterinarian who will similarly provide his rubber-stamp for a retainer – analogous to the way in states with medical marijuana, it’s rather easy to find physicians who will certify that you have some qualifying condition.

  21. 21
    C.V. Danes says:

    @Chickamin Slam:

    You know what could solve bubonic plague? Another round of tax cuts for the rich. Surely that will solve the problem like it has solved so many others.

    I thought nano-tech was supposed to make us all plague resistant…

  22. 22
    C.V. Danes says:


    (that six Walton family members have a combined net worth than the combined net worth of the 60% of the American people is something of a medieval distribution of wealth)

    Indeed, while their workers were forced to open up an internal food bank for Thanksgiving.

  23. 23
    JPL says:

    @Cassidy: He spent so much money fighting the city, that he was left penniless. He was being forced to leave his house and decided to die in his house instead. The article did use more descriptive terms but pretty much that’s what happened.

  24. 24
    JPL says:

    @JPL: One additional thought, the community viewed him as the crazy chicken man, rather than extend a helping hand.

  25. 25
    liberal says:

    Balogne. It’s a solvable problem; there’s just a lack of political will. You could put an extremely high tax on the chemicals at the point of origin, to be refunded on an as-needed basis to the ultimate consumer. And you could write a statute that would make rubber-stamping scripts a felony punishable by 10 years in prison, plus revoking of license to practice.

  26. 26
    liberal says:

    No, the drugs aren’t only given to animals being raised in poor conditions. AFAICT the reason they’re given indiscriminantly is because they speed growth.

  27. 27
    Xecky Gilchrist says:

    Sounds like a job for vegetarianism.

  28. 28
    Capri says:

    I don’t understand the scare quotes around “disease prevention” as a valid reason to give antibiotics to food animals. I can think of nothing more cruel than to allow any animal to suffer from pneumonia or an uddder infection when a short course of antibiotics could relieve its pain. Bacterial diseases have been with animals as long as they have been with humans, intensive farming didn’t “start” them, and going back to low density, sustainable farming won’t make them go away.

    Treating disease is a tiny fraction of all antibiotic use in food producing animals. The vast majority of it is used like a vitamin – when added to an animal’s ration it speeds growth. It has nothing to do with disease prevention or treatment.

    Fun fact, hormones are not used in poultry production. So if you read on a package of chicken in the grocery store that it is hormone free – that phrase is there to appeal to the uneducated consumer who likes the sound of that, not because it makes that cut of meat any different from any other piece of chicken in the grocery store.

  29. 29
    debg says:

    @WereBear: Shortly after the Black Death, peasants, serfs, and low-wage town workers did start demanding higher wages and better working conditions for the first time ever in medieval Europe. Every single time they tried to improve their lives, elites swatted them down. Every.single.time.

  30. 30
    Origuy says:

    @Montarvillois: Just remember that A&W in Canada is a separate corporation from A&W in the USA.

  31. 31
    negative 1 says:

    @Schlemizel: Yes, but I’ll give you a little sunshine-ray of optimism. It means that even if this is lip service, the lip service is in the correct direction. People now can’t ignore it entirely, and that seemingly small first step on any issue is always the hardest. Now we’re arguing over enforcement, and that’s lightyears away from where we were on the issue a week ago.

  32. 32
    Paul in KY says:

    Pneumonic plague is 99% fatal.

  33. 33
    TooManyJens says:

    @Cassidy: NaturalNews might accidentally run some true stories (and from what JPL’s saying, this is one of them), but I would never believe anything I read there without verifying it with a real source. It’s sort of the Daily Mail of health quackery.

  34. 34
    David in NY says:

    @Capri: doesn’t restrict the use of antibiotics ‘for disease prevention’

    I’m not sure I understand your point. You apparently oppose giving antibiotics to animals in the way we take vitamins, which is certainly right. But the “disease prevention” rationale seems to allow this through the back door, by allowing antibiotic “treatment” of livestock to prevent, rather than cure, possible diseases. I’ve got no problem with antibiotic treatment of sick animals, but treating them because they might get sick (prevention) continues the current, dangerous program. Or so I see it. My knowledge of this sort of think is somewhat tangential (though I do talk to farmers about their practices from time to time), so I may be missing something. But I do worry that using drugs for “disease prevention” may just maintain the status quo — which is really, really dangerous.

  35. 35
    Uncle Cosmo says:

    @Paul in KY: But it’s almost impossible to transmit, no matter what that imbecile article says, & the reason is the same that “weaponizing” anthrax spores is a non-trivial activity: Droplet size.

    Bio agents like Bacillus anthracis or Yersinia pestis do their major damage by invading & colonizing the deep lung, where they can hide out & multiply in relative isolation. By the time the infection is diagnosed & antibiotics administered, there are so many organisms that the toxins released as they die are sufficient to kill the host.

    There is a specific size range of aerosol or airborne droplet that’s small enough to get past all the nasal filters & into the deep lung & large enough not to be exhaled.

    Pneumonic plague (which is the same Y. pestis organism as bubonic variety, only entering via the lung rather than fleabite) can be transmitted by airborne droplets from a coughing or sneezing victim. But under normal circumstances the size distribution of such droplets is such that nearly all are too big–they get snagged in the nasopharynx where if they go any further it’s into the lymphatic system to cause the bubonic version.

    FTR bubonic plague is endemic on the planet–there are simply too many reservoirs for Y. pestis (including wild rodents in the US Southwest, BTW)–but there has been exactly one known “pneumonic plague epidemic” in recorded history, in Manchuria in 1949 in the middle of one of the coldest winters in that godforsakenly cold part of the multiverse, when people huddled indoors almost continuously, packed so tight that they were literally inhaling one anothers’ exhaled breath. IIRC even under those near-optimal conditions for airborne transmission, a few dozen people died & the whole thing died away when spring arrived.

    (Also FTR, I don’t know if the US & USSR both developed antibiotic-resistant strains of Y. pestis, but I do know that only the Rooskies managed to weaponize theirs. It’s a fragile organism outside a host & the Yanks just couldn’t keep theirs alive long enough to reach the target. My understanding is that the Soviet method involved [redacted] & this was still so unstable that the warheads of the [redacted] plague-carrying ICBMs that were aimed at [redacted] required refills at relatively short intervals.)

    (Just FTR I worked in CB defense for a number of years–math modeling, no bench work–& learned a lot about a lot of the uglies. Much of what i learned about Y. pestis came from the one guy who was most in a position to know.)

  36. 36
    lightning says:

    And we all know what plague in Madagascar means …

Comments are closed.