While it never really went away, the debate surrounding antibiotic use in food-animals is getting renewed attention. The recent recall involving ground turkey and a University of Maryland study on organic chicken are among the recent news items that are breathing new life into the issue.

This week, Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) and six other congressmen sent a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, challenging Commissioner Margaret Hamburg to take action on a Guidance Document that creates regulations for a “strong antibiotics oversight system.” It also cites the need for “meaningful veterinary oversight” of antibiotic use through FDA’s Veterinary Feed Directive. Slaughter contends this would “improve data collection.”

“It is time to take action to preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics,” Slaughter says. She wants to see “the routine use of antibiotics” in animal agriculture eliminated.

Slaughter is a microbiologist and she has repeatedly raised the antibiotic issue for consideration in the U.S. House through various bills. This time, she cites Cargill’s recall of 36 million pounds of ground turkey due to Salmonella exposure as a need for action. In all, 26 states were involved in the recall, 78 people became ill and one person died. FSIS described the suspected Salmonella strain as “multi-drug antibiotic resistant.”

You can review the letter here. http://www.louise.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=25...

Also this week, a University of Maryland study reported poultry farms that have moved to organic production and stopped using antibiotics had significantly lower levels of drug-resistant enterococci bacteria. The study was published in Environmental Health Perspectives (online Aug. 10, 2011).

"We initially thought we would see some differences in on-farm levels of antibiotic-resistant enterococci when poultry farms transitioned to organic practices. But we were surprised to see that the differences were so significant across several different classes of antibiotics even in the very first flock of birds that was produced after the transition to organic standards," says Amy Sapkota, assistant professor with the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health.

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health assisted with the research, which looked at 10 conventional and 10 newly organic large-scale poultry houses in the mid-Atlantic region. They tested for enterococci bacteria in poultry litter, feed, and water, and tested its resistance to 17 common antimicrobials.

"We chose to study enterococci because these microorganisms are found in all poultry, including poultry on both organic and conventional farms. The enterococci also cause infections in human patients staying in hospitals. In addition, many of the antibiotics given in feed to farm animals are used to fight Gram-positive bacteria such as the enterococci. These features, along with their reputation of easily exchanging resistance genes with other bacteria, make enterococci a good model for studying the impact of changes in antibiotic use on farms," Sapkota says.

While all farms tested positive for the presence of enterococci in poultry litter, feed, and water as expected, the newly organic farms had a significantly lower prevalence of antibiotic-resistant enterococci. For example, 67 percent of Enterococcus faecalis recovered from conventional poultry farms were resistant to erythromycin, while only 18 percent of Enterococcus faecalis from the newly organic farms were resistant.

"While we know that the dynamics of antibiotic resistance differ by bacterium and antibiotic, these findings show that, at least in the case of enterococci, we begin to reverse resistance on farms even among the first group of animals that are grown without antibiotics,” Sapkota says. “Now we need to look forward and see what happens over five years, 10 years in time."