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Pathogens, Pork, and Drinking Water

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Monday, March 16, 2009
Updated: Tuesday, February 15, 2011
"Pathogens in Our Pork,” a March 15 op ed piece by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, raises another alarm about the agricultural use of antibiotics to promote the rapid growth of livestock and control disease in the pens where they are crammed together. Animals raised for food get 70 percent of all the antibiotics dispensed in the US, and scientists say that is a major contributor to the evolution of drug-resistant bacteria. Kristof writes specifically about MRSA, methicillin resistant Staphylopcoccus aureus, and a new strain called ST 398, for which modern hog farms seem to be providing a reservoir. Several studies have identified MRSA and other pathogens in the meat we buy.

Controlled Animal Feeding Operations also produce huge quantities of manure, and Kristof notes that antibiotic resistant bacteria from hog farms has been found in ground water. But don’t get to comfortable just because you don’t live near a hog farm. Scientists have been worrying about antibiotic-resistant pathogens in drinking water for decades, and the presence of antibiotics in water has grown. And it's not surprising. An Associated Press investigative team did a five month study of drinking water supplies in 24 major metropolitan areas and found dozens of pharmaceutical products in the water. Just to get an idea, look at the drugs found in the drinking water in Philadelphia.

It’s sobering to think the water we drink has been has been drunk before, by fellow creatures with two legs and four. It has passed through bodily systems and been excreted, carrying with it a vast assortment of antibiotics and other medicines. We’re assured these are all trace elements below the threshold that would harm human health. But more study might be instructive. The International Dose Response Society studies the concept of hormesis, which holds the warning that a little bit of a bad thing may have a bigger and more unpredictable impact than one might expect.

Tags:  buscell  complexity matters  health  MRSA 

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