Researchers in China found a gene that makes bacteria highly resistant to a class of ‘last-resort’ antibiotics. The finding has caused decision makers in Europe to reconsider some antibiotics used in livestock feed. There is no word on what the FDA will do.
The medical world right now is concerned about an antibiotic resistant gene originally found in pork and chicken from four provinces in China. This new gene makes bacteria “highly resistant” to a last-resort class of antibiotics known as polymyxins. In other words, patients who do not respond to the most commonly used antibiotics, this discovery shows that the last ditch antibiotic used – polymyxins – is now being rendered ineffective by this gene.
Antibiotics are commonly fed to livestock animals in feed. This practice is accepted worldwide. Animals that are ‘factory farmed’ – raised in tight quarters, fed waste material feed (example: instead of cattle grazing on grass they are provided with commercial feed that includes chicken litter and/or expired grocery foods often including plastic packaging) can be prone to disease. To battle and prevent disease in livestock, it has become standard practice to medicate the feed on a consistent basis. Some statistics report that as much as 80% of the antibiotics sold in the U.S. are meant for animal/livestock consumption.
The practice of consistent use of antibiotics in livestock feed has raised concerns of bacteria becoming antibiotic resistant. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) warns: “Antibiotics must be used judiciously in humans and animals because both uses contribute to the emergence, persistence, and spread of resistant bacteria. Resistant bacteria in food-producing animals are of particular concern. Food animals serve as a reservoir of resistant pathogens and resistance mechanisms that can directly or indirectly result in antibiotic resistant infections in humans. For example, resistant bacteria may be transmitted to humans through the foods we eat.”
And just as CDC warns, resistant bacteria has emerged. In November 2015, researchers in China published a report on the discovery of a gene – called mcr-1 – that makes bacteria resistant to a last-resort class of antibiotics (polymyxins – a class of antibiotics that includes the drug Colistin). More concerning, the researchers found the gene on ‘mobile DNA’ that can be easily copied and transferred between different bacteria. This means that the gene can render many types of bacteria (E.coli such as in food poisoning to bacteria of pneumonia) resistant to antibiotics. In November 2015 Reuters reported this gene was only found in China. But two months later “researchers in at least 10 countries in Southeast Asia, Africa, and Europe announced they had found the gene within their borders.”
It is unknown if this gene has been found in North America.
Added after original post published: Thanks to one of you wonderful readers, the gene has been found in Canada. Click Here for that information.
The European Union is already taking action. Earlier this week (January 11, 2016) another report from Reuters states: “European drug regulators launched a review of the use in farming of a key last-line antibiotic called colistin after international research found alarming evidence of a gene that makes bacteria resistant to the drug. The London-based European Medicines Agency (EMA) said it was responding to a European Commission request to update its advice on the use in animals of colistin, which is one of the last-resort antibiotics capable of treating humans with certain bacterial infections.” The EU drug regulators are reconsidering their previous stance of allowing “responsible use of colistin in animals”.
It is unknown if the FDA will be taking similar action as the EU with regards to the livestock feed use of Colistin.
The FDA over the past several years has initiated various programs to “help ensure judicious use of antibiotics in food-producing animals”. One is a Veterinary Feed Directive that requires certain antibiotics to only be used under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian. This is a good step forward however, it does not appear that Colistin or similar line of antibiotics (the last-resort antibiotics) are included under FDA’s new supervision program.
Pet owners can safely assume that this gene linked to antibiotic resistance can move to animals/our pets as well. The gene was found in pigs and poultry as well has human patients in China.
As if this isn’t enough for consumers to be concerned with, the last-line antibiotic in question – Colistin – brings up another concern – jerky treats imported from China. The drug Colistin is linked to kidney disease.
Concern #1 – Reuters states: “China is one of the world’s largest user of colistin for agriculture and veterinary use.”
Concern #2 – From ‘Renal and neurological side effects of colistin in critically ill patients’: “Renal toxicity is the most common adverse effect of colistin treatment because the drug is excreted primarily by the kidneys and elevated blood levels may further impair renal function.”
Put Concern #1 and #2 together – and it leads one to wonder about Chinese jerky treats. China is the world’s largest user of Colistin in animal feed, and this drug is linked to kidney disease – was this drug used in poultry feed in China and is it the drug responsible for the thousands of pet illnesses and deaths linked to Chinese jerky treats? Has the FDA – in their 8+ year investigation of jerky treats from China – ever tested the treats for Colistin?
I don’t know. But I have sent questions to FDA asking if they have tested the chicken jerky treats for this antibiotic that is linked to kidney disease. I also provided the agency with the Reuters news release on the aggressive action the EU is taking on the livestock use of this antibiotic (hoping FDA will be just as aggressive). Should the FDA respond, it will be shared.
And, with a list of other issues, if opportunity arises I will be asking FDA about this drug in jerky treats and about the use of this drug in U.S. livestock feed at the AAFCO meeting next week.
What livestock animals eat is hugely important. What livestock animals eat effects all of us and all of our pets. Sadly, there is not one consumer advocacy group that attends AAFCO meetings on behalf of safe livestock feed. We need them there. We need representatives of Food and Water Watch, Center for Science in the Public Interest, and others to attend AAFCO meetings on behalf of livestock feed. Our small team of pet food consumer advocates cannot cover all feed – we need representatives from the big consumer associations to help us in this battle. If anyone out there is connected to these agencies or knows someone who is – please ask them to be the voice for safe livestock feed at AAFCO.
Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,
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