Iowa Public Television


USDA Seeks Secure Health of Swine Population

posted on September 27, 2013

The owners of a Colorado cantaloupe farm determined to be responsible for the 2011 listeria epidemic that killed 33 people were arrested late this week. The Jensen brothers were charged with introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce – a misdemeanor.

According to the Centers for Disease Control roughly 1 in 6 Americans – about 48 million people – get sick from contaminated food annually, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from foodborne illnesses.

Some diseases are more easily fought with the use of antibiotics. But you can have too much of a good thing. Overuse can lead to antibiotic resistant bacteria.

But stopping the spread of disease can be problematic anywhere - - even in the feedlot. Finding ways to check the spread of infectious animal diseases has USDA working on a number of new vaccines.

USDA Seeks Secure Health of Swine Population

In the wake of the outbreaks of Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome, or PRRS, USDA is making efforts to secure the health of the nation’s swine population through the development of new vaccines.

Dr. Joan Lunney/USDA Research Scientist: “For breeders and producers, they well know that once you have a disease, many times you have production losses, and with PRRS we know there’s $642 million production losses per year in the United States alone.”

Though a majority of pork producers raise their animals in bio-secure environments, USDA warns livestock operations are still susceptible, mainly due to human activity.  The agency cautions diseases can enter an operation on truck tires, on shoes, or in shipments of new stock from grow-out facilities.  The problem has Agriculture Department scientists working to prevent the spread of deadly bacteria.

Dr. Joan Lunney/USDA Research Scientist: “To be able to design more effectives vaccines…To be able to know what their immune response is, and to ask whether genetically some of them may be better responders to vaccines, we call them vaccine-ready pigs .”

These efforts come on the heels of a recently released report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  “Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States 2013” warns of a festering pandemic of superbugs able to thwart current medicines.  CDC officials claim the overuse of common drugs has encouraged several bacterium to develop immunities.  The report declares: “Antibiotics should be used in food-producing animals only under veterinary oversight and only to manage and treat infectious diseases, not to promote growth.”

Dr. Tom Frieden/CDC Director: “Antibiotic resistance is one of the most serious health threats we face today. We risk entering a post-antibiotic era…where even simple infections can be deadly.  With a few bacteria, we’re already there.”

For the past decade, sub-therapeutic antibiotic use has skyrocketed as method of promoting rapid weight gain in meat production.  Over seventy percent of all antibiotic drugs sold in America go to animal production, particularly chickens and hogs.

But drug-resistant bacteria are already present in the nation’s meat supply.  Officials with the Atlanta-based health and safety agency warn these resistant bacteria can be passed on to the consumer when meats are undercooked or handled improperly. CDC scientists estimate a $20 billion annual bump in health care costs and another $35 billion in lost productivity will occur each year should the issue go unchecked.

Currently, there are few federal rules governing the sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics.  This means compliance to current industry guidelines is voluntary.

 The Food and Drug Administration echoes the CDC’s warnings of the speed with which pathogens can evolve under such conditions.  FDA guidelines promote “judicious use” of antibiotics only when the health of an animal is in peril.

Dr. Tom Frieden/CDC Director: “We’re sounding this alarm because as serious as the threat is, if we take quick, aggressive action, we can stop it.”

Tags: antibiotics bacteria CDC FDA immunity PRRS research scientists sub-therapeutic superbugs USDA vaccines