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Antibiotics in Animal Feed: The Birth of a Superbug

For years, researchers, scientists, livestock groups and government officials have debated whether the use of antibiotics in livestock feed creates antibiotic resistant germs that could pose a threat to humans. A new study published in the most recent edition of mBio (a publication of the American Society of Microbiology) outlines the birth of one such superbug.

Researchers used genetic analysis to trace the transfer of a staph germ from humans to pigs and back to humans over the past decade. The staph germ became resistant to tetracycline and methicillin, two antibiotics commonly used in livestock feed, ultimately morphing into what is now known as MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.

This so-called “pig MRSA” has been found in half of all meat sold in the United States, and poses a risk to consumers through unsafe handling, cross-contamination and under-cooking.

At first, humans were only infected with MRSA through direct contact with livestock. Now, it seems the bug has morphed into a form that can be transferred from person to person. Some researchers fear that MRSA infection could become a major public health problem, and are advocating a ban on the use of antibiotics in livestock feed (as in the EU).

Would you support such a ban in the United States?

Image Credit: thornypup/Flickr