Recently, ScienceBlogling Jeff Toney responded to Chief Veterinarian of the National Pork Producers Council Liz Wagstrom’s argument that widespread antibiotic use in agriculture has little effect on the antibiotic resistance problem. He concludes:
However, the scientific facts support this idea [of agricultural misuse being a problem] – imagine the effect on our population of literally thousands of tons of antibiotics used in agriculture and animal husbandry, not intended in any way to support public health. Any microbiologist knows that if you grow bacteria in low levels of antibiotics, you can easily select for surviving cultures that have become resistant.
Is this a culture war of facts?
I’m not so worried about this becoming “a culture war of facts.” Yet. This is the kind of crap the pork lobby has always pulled. Here’s one example of a new definition of ‘pulled pork':
A couple of years ago, I testified at the Scientific Review of the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS). This is a program that conducts research related to antibiotic resistance and agriculture; it also tracks the spread of resistance from the farm, through the food chain, and into the clinic…. the ag lobbyists spent the entire meeting trying to eviscerate the funding for NARMS.
First, they kept referring to ‘statistically sound sampling’ over and over again (clearly, this was a talking point). Of course, who could possibly be against statistically sound sampling? What are you, an Al-Queda sympathizer or sumthin’? What they meant is that NARMS should spend all of its time making the confidence intervals even smaller than they already are. Rather than spending its funding, I dunno, genetically tracking the spread of resistance, the pork lobby wants them to dither around testing thousands more bacteria for resistance.
In other words, they wanted NARMS to spend its money concluding that resistance to antibiotic X occurred at 3 ± 0.1% instead of 3 ± 0.2%. Why? So money wouldn’t be spent on something useful like actually tracking the spread of resistance. Here’s some more ‘pulled pork':
Second, and I can’t remember the exact phrase, they wanted equal contributions from the three agencies that support NARMS (CDC, FDA, and USDA). Basically, this was a way to reduce funding and personnel for NARMS: CDC, through the PHS, lends NARMS a lot of personnel, while FDA and USDA provide a lot of the funding. By calling for equal contributions (which is the dumbest governance ‘principle’ I’ve ever heard of), personnel staffing and funding would sink to the lowest agency level.
Of course, while they were doing this, they were also claiming that we need more research. We do need more research, but the ag lobby has consistently opposed meaningful research. I know NARMS personnel want to design rigorous surveillance schemes that would move from farms to the specific slaughterhouses, and then to the supermarkets and hospitals that receive food from those slaughterhouses (or that are near the farms and slaughterhouses). I know NARMS personnel want to use resistance to agricutlure-only antibiotics (e.g., florfenicol) as a genetic biomarker to track the srpead of resistance from the farm to the clinic. But they can barely keep their ongoing projects afloat due to the constant political assault from those opposing their work.
The ag lobbyists don’t want the kind of comprehensive study I’ve argued for here (as well as in front of committees) because then they can’t use their other gambit, the ‘cigarettes don’t cause cancer’ argument: yes, that study demonstrated an increase in resistance, but you can’t show that a particular resistant infection resulted from a particular use of antibiotics.
Ag lobbyists will always be corporate scumbags: it is in their natures. But I will get worried if I start to see conservative think
faith tanks and pundits arguing that the agricultural use of antibiotics isn’t a problem. Then it becomes a matter of personal identity for their slavering Uruk-hai followers in much the same way creationism is.
Then we’re really fucked.