food safety

Another Deadly Superbug Has Shown Up on America’s Pig Farms

Sooie. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Researchers at Ohio State say a formidable new antibiotic-resistant bacterium has landed in America, and is already positioning itself as a “ticking time bomb” just waiting to enter the food supply. It’s something called carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, a germ that’s been on the loose in Asia and Europe for a while, but never entered the U.S. until now. As Mother Jones’s Tom Philpott explains, it can withstand carbapenems, a class of antibiotics that already serves as a last line of defense against multi-drug-resistant bugs. If that weren’t bad enough, the authors also note CRE has hooked itself to a gene that can “bounce easily from one bacterial strain to another.” It’s therefore “highly mobile” and more likely to find its way into bacterial pathogens that infect people.”

The paper doesn’t reveal which farm, outside of noting it had about 1,500 sows and “followed typical U.S. production practices.” The point seems more to be that CRE is here, regardless where or in what amount; Philpott says researchers settled on a generic farm specifically to see “whether carbapenem resistance is taking hold on U.S. hog farms.” He then quotes from a post by a National Resources Defense Council expert, who writes that CRE is “one of the nastier superbugs”:

Infections with these germs are very difficult to treat, and can be deadly — the death rate from patients with CRE bloodstream infections is up to 50 percent. The CDC says these bacteria already cause 9,300 infections, and 600 deaths each year. To date, CRE infections occur mostly among patients in hospitals and nursing homes; people on breathing machines, or with tubing inserted into their veins or bladders are at higher risk, as are people taking long courses of certain antibiotics. But newer, more resistant kinds of CRE seem to be causing more problems outside hospitals, in communities and among healthier people.

Right now, about 70 percent of the nation’s antibiotics go into livestock, i.e., the meat you eat, which doesn’t suggest very good odds of curbing the rise of the superbug. Even less comfortingly, a lot rides on Donald Trump’s pick for Ag secretary — the most recent short list of possibilities now spans from only slightly troubling to much more worrisome.

Another Deadly Superbug Has Shown Up on America’s Pig Farms