Lance Price [ 11 MAR 2014 | Food Security | 13:04 ] I think you’ll see from my talk that Andrew Gunther and I share a mutual respect and perhaps love and maybe some similar slides actually.
I was born in Arizona but I spent most of my summers in Central Texas on our family’s ranch.
We were lucky we weren’t dependent on the ranch for our primary income so we got the experience of raising animals without the stress of trying to make a living from it –which is can be very stressful.
This is a picture of me, a fuzzy picture of me, with my father and our beefmaster bulls aim tiger.
I love this bull.
As I grew up I decided that I wouldn’t go into the cattle business because I didn’t want to go broke.
I decided that anything would be easier than that.
I studied microbiology, genomics and Public Health.
Today I think I have one of the greatest jobs ever.
I tracked superbugs.
I use DNA to understand where these things are coming from.
On one hand my job is super exciting and fun because I get to see how these amazing little microbes exchange genes, pick up mutations and become resistant to antibiotics –and then take off around the world.
But on the other hand my job is pretty depressing for some of the same reasons but also because I see the victims of these superbugs.
I’ve met the victims who barely survived with their lives and sadly i’ve met parents who have lost their children to these superbugs.
This is just a cute name that we use for antibiotic resistant bacteria.
These are bacteria that are resistant to our best antibiotics.
It turns out that the CDC is saying that those parents that are losing children are not so rare.
23,000 Americans die.
This is a conservative estimate.
23,000 Americans die of superbug infections each year.
So understanding their origins is really essential.
On some levels it’s really simple.
It’s just a matter of evolution.
So let’s pretend for a minute this is a very small group of bacteria.
Bacteria usually travel in packs of billions.
Every now and then when you have a big group of bacteria one of them’s going to pick up a mutation or a gene from another bacterium that makes them resistant to antibiotics.
If that’s happening in an environment where you have a lot of antibiotics then the susceptible bacteria –that is the non resistant ones –are going to die off and the resistant ones are going to go on to multiply.
To think about bacteria, they multiply very quickly.
So e.coli, for instance, can double every 30 minutes.
You can go from a single cell– a single drug-resistant ecoli– in less than [an hour?].
More than a billion in 24 hours.
This is simple Darwinian evolution.
But Darwinian evolution in real time.
If you’re like me and you’re interested in knowing where these superbugs are coming from then you have to go to the places where we’re using a lot of antibiotics.
And the first thing that probably comes to mind are hospitals, right.
And it’s true, in the United States, we’re using seven point seven million pounds of antibiotics in human medicine each year.
This is way too much.
We’re trying to bring that down but we’re using 30 million pounds of antibiotics in food animal production each year.
30 million pounds.
The data and the best estimates suggest that only 20% of those antibiotics are being used to treat sick animals.
80 percent are being used as production tools.
They’re being used to make animals grow faster.
They’re being used to prevent diseases or treat diseases that are occurring just because of the way we’re raising animals.
The industry calls these production diseases but rather than change production we’re just using antibiotics.
When it comes to antibiotic use context is critical.
So you have to look at how we’re producing these animals.
And if you’re like me, this was your first image of a farm right.
I think many of us carry this around.
This is still propagated right.
The red barn, the silo, the happy little animals, pigs that look like dogs.
I love these toys.
This is clearly had a huge influence on my life.
But this is not the way we raise animals in the United States.
We raise animals in concentrated animal feeding operations.
So pigs spend their entire lives on concrete slabs surrounded by their own feces.
Cattle will spend part of their lives grazing like on my family’s ranch but they’ll end up on these fecal waste lands that we call feed Lots where they’re exchanging bacteria and fattening up for slaughter.
Chickens spend their lives beak to feather with 75,000 of their best friends and turkeys spend their lives much the same.
Now people call these things factory farms.
That’s a term that the industry hates –reason enough to use it.
Every now and then.
But when I see these factories, when I see these operations, I don’t see factories making meat.
I see factories making trillions and trillions and trillions of drug-resistant bacteria.
The most diabolical villain could not design a better system for creating superbugs than the modern cafo.
You have everything you need you have tens of thousands of animals crammed together in filthy stressful conditions.
You have bacteria –loads of bacteria – living in those animals.
Spreading between those animals.
And then you have the magic ingredient.
You have a steady stream of low dose antibiotics.
We’ve known for decades that low dose antibiotics creates drug-resistant bacteria.
We heard about this– Alexander Fleming warned us.
He said ignorant men would use these drugs at low doses and create superbugs.
The science has proven this over and over again.
Ever since then –he warned us in 1945, and ever since then we’ve seen the evidence of this.
But some people– some ignorant men– still ignore that science and actually promote the use of low dose antibiotics.
The food animal industry itself promotes the use of antibiotics to grow animals faster and to control diseases.
They promote antibiotics as if they’re a tool– our life-saving drug as a tool.
But antibiotics are not tools.
Antibiotics are amazing drugs.
If you’ve designed a system that requires a constant input of antibiotics to keep animals from getting sick then that system is broken.
If you’re treating based on a clock or a calendar there’s something wrong.
You have to reinvent that system.
You have to change that system to raise healthy animals again.
Antibiotics are not tools.
They’re not just tools for us to abuse.
Antibiotics are what Stuart Levey called societal drugs.
Let me use a counter example to get this point across.
If you misuse Tylenol or if you misuse acetaminophen the active ingredient in Tylenol you can destroy your liver and die.
You’ll die a horrible death.
But that doesn’t affect anybody else’s ability to take tylenol for a headache.
If you misuse antibiotics you can create drug-resistant bacteria inside you –on you –that can then spread to other people in society and prevent them from being treated with that same antibiotic.
That’s why we call these societal drugs.
The problem with using an animal production is that animals –like people –have trillions of bacteria living in them and when you feed them antibiotics you’re going to force some of those bacteria to become resistant to those antibiotics.
When you butcher those animals, to make meat, some of those bacteria evitably get onto that meat and then those go on to cause drug-resistant infections.
That’s the problem we have in the United States..
You have an industry that’s knowingly using sub-sub therapeutic uses of antibiotics, creating drug-resistant bacteria, and then distributing those bacteria to every grocery store in the country.
Then what happens, like the recent Foster Farms outbreak with drug-resistant Salmonella, multi drug-resistant Salmonella –what happens is they blame us.
They say people need to cook their meat better.
Could you imagine if we allowed someone to pump toxic fumes into the air and then tell us to wear gas masks.
I don’t think we would allow that.
Some people have called me an alarmist.
Some people say I use alarmist terminology.
Rather than deny that I say yeah I’m trying to ring the alarm.
I see that our house is on fire and I’m not satisfied with sitting inside the house as it burns to the ground.
It turns out I’m not the only one using strong language to describe these superbugs– to describe this challenge that we face.
Other groups are using the words crisis, nightmare, catastrophic threat.
But these aren’t radicals saying this, this is the world health organization, this is the CDC, the UK Health Ministry saying this.
These groups are not prone to hyperbole.
They see what I see.
They see that we’re barreling towards a time when our antibiotics no longer work.
It’s going to change our lives completely.
They see that our house is on fire and there’s no place else to live.
Despite all this I actually consider myself an optimist.
I see that we can change this.
I’ve seen very clear evidence from Denmark –from other places around the world –that if you remove the antibiotics from food, animal production, many of those bacteria will revert to being susceptible to those antibiotics again.
You’re still going to have bacteria in the meat.
You still have to cook it.
You still have to handle it correctly.
But when people get sick –and people still get sick– you can treat them with antibiotics and make them better again.
That’s where we should use be using the antibiotics –to treat sick people.
How do we put this fire out.
First thing: we have to embrace this idea that antibiotics are different– they are societal drugs– and value them for what they are.
I’m a scientist, they’re just short of a miracle –they’re almost a miracle.
They save people’s lives.
So we should only treat sick people and sick animals.
We should change our system of raising animals so that they don’t get sick.
We need to increase hygiene in our hospitals, in our in our homes and in our food production system and yes we need new antibiotics.
But this is not the answer.
This is not the ultimate answer.
We’ve had so many new antibiotics since Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin.
We’ve had so many.
And each time the bacteria became resistant to them.
Because we’ve introduced them to a broken system.
We have to change the system a.
We’ll get new antibiotics but let’s introduce it into a system that doesn’t create drug-resistant bacteria.
The good news is the models exist.
There are food animal production systems that are highly efficient– even industrialized systems that don’t need antibiotics, that don’t use antibiotics.
They’re more natural – the open air, the more traditional forms of raising animals that are becoming hopefully more popular.
This is my friend Kai.
He’s a Danish pig farmer.
I went to his farm one day and I was struck when he stood in his pen with these pigs massive massive hogs and he walks in and one comes up to him– it kind of leans against his le, like a dog, and he reached down reaches down he rubs its ear.
And he says I love this, I’m a farmer again.
He said when we used to use the drugs and when we had these animals packed in here too tight, they were stressed out, they were angry and it was dangerous.
So now look at it.
He gives me one of these big smiles.
So my dream is that we stop propping up this broken system with antibiotics, that we let farmers be farmers again, that we have animals live like healthy animals again, and that we save antibiotics for future generations.
We can do this but we have to act now.