Sunday, December 9, 2012

MRSA & Antibiotics: Farmers or Doctors!

Do we continue to blame the doctors when animals are given antibiotic to help them grow?

©2010 Am Ang Zhang

It's no secret that factory farms use unconscionable amounts of antibiotics when fattening up animals for market. In Germany, however, veterinarians play a crucial role in the abuse. Many are getting rich in the process, but the risks to both human and animals are many.

They had sold huge quantities of drugs, some of which were not approved, and dispensed dozers of liters of medications to animals to which they should never have been administered. Investigators with the public prosecutor's office in the western city of Wiesbaden called the operation a "pharmacy on wheels." Antibiotics were allegedly stored on pallets. A former employee told investigators at the time that the veterinary clinic was essentially a mail-order operation for drugs, and that the pharmaceutical industry had expressed its gratitude by giving the clinic huge discounts.

"Some veterinarians' profit margins are bigger than those of cocaine dealers," says Nicki Schirm, who has been a veterinarian in the state of Hesse for more than 25 years. When a veterinarian finds a sick chick among 20,000 other chicks, he treats the discovery as justification to preventively treat the entire flock with antibiotics, says Rupert Ebner, a veterinarian from the Bavarian city of Ingolstadt. "Nowadays, flock or herd health monitoring is the code name for the generous administration of drugs," says Ebner. In many cases, he adds, fake diagnoses are used to provide a justification for the use of antibiotics.

In large veterinary practices, profits from the sale of drugs can account for up to 80 percent of revenues. This is mainly due to the volume discounts offered by the pharmaceutical industry and the sweet privilege known as the right to dispense -- a special provision for the pharmaceutical monopoly. For more than 150 years, veterinarians have been allowed to both prescribe and sell medications -- with almost no supervision whatsoever.


But this could change. Veterinarians have come into the political firing line after testing of animal populations in the western states of Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia revealed the large-scale presence of antibiotics. In North Rhine-Westphalia, Green Party Environment Minister Johannes Remmel ordered the testing of 182 flocks on commercial chicken farms. More than 90 percent of the animals had been treated with antibiotics, many multiple times, so that they were essentially being fed a constant diet of drugs. Others were given the medications for only one or two days, which isn't long enough and is in violation of the conditions for licensing the drugs. Such results raise suspicions that the drugs were being used to guarantee the success of the poultry fattening operation rather than to fight disease.

Both farmers and veterinarians are now under suspicion, prompting Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner to push for a tightening of Germany's Pharmaceutical Products Act and a "careful review" of veterinarians' right to dispense drugs.

Some 900 tons of antibiotics were fed to animals in Germany in 2010. This is 116 tons more than in 2005, and more than three times as much as the entire German population takes annually. Pharmaceutical producers were required to report their 2011 sales of veterinary drugs by the end of March. A number of companies did not comply, prompting the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety to request the information in writing.

Even though there are fewer than 5 million pigs in the UK, and over 33 million sheep, it is worth noting that according official figures pig farming accounts for approximately 60% of all UK farm antibiotic use, and sheep farming for less than 0.3% This means that use per animal is about 1,500  times higher in pig farming than it is in sheep farming. Although sheep and pigs are not directly comparable these statistics help to illustrate the fact that even though the use of some antibiotics on farms has now been banned many producers have simply switched to others and overall antibiotic use remains very high.

Although the use of antibiotics for growth promotion has now been banned in all EU countries, many of the antibiotics still used as growth promoters in pigs in the US (such as tetracycline, penicillin and tylosin) remain available as feed additives for prophylactic use in the UK at growth promoting rates, as long as a veterinary prescription is obtained.

Related: New York Times


Dr No said...

The Apothecaries Union made you an offer you couldn't refuse, to let them off the hook?

Agricultural ABs on an agricultural scale are of course a scandal but we don't want the apothecaries getting notions that if the vets and farmers are at it like rabbits, then a little bit of futile but keeps the punters happy medical Smartie pushing can't do any harm.

Cockroach Catcher said...

It is a matter of scale and knowledge. As Bacteriology textbook had to be re-written (thanks to Quorum Sensing and genetic mutation)the massive scale of antibiotic use despite official EU ban is worrying. Smarties come much later and and not on the same scale. Bright Young Things now want to be vets and pay off their house by age 28!
Legal too, unlike Cocaine.