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Originally published March 30 2015

Antibiotic-resistant pathogens are now airborne, thanks to CAFO factory farms

by Sandy J. Duncan

(NaturalNews) Next time you are on a road trip and the kids all yell "What's that smell?" you may be in the danger zone. In a sobering and eye-opening study, scientists explained why driving by cattle yards may not just be problematic because of the foul odor. The study, entitled "Antibiotics, Bacteria, and Antibiotic Resistance Genes: Aerial Transport from Cattle Feed Yards via Particulate Matter," was released on January 22, 2015.

For this new study, environmental researchers at Texas Tech University set out to determine whether these antibiotics, bacteria and antibiotic resistance genes were airborne.

Ground-breaking study

In what is believed to be the first study of its kind, researchers gathered airborne particulate matter from 10 commercial cattle yards near Lubbock, Texas, within a six-month period. The cattle yards chosen for the study each had 20,000 to 50,000 cattle. They discovered that the air downwind of the yards contained antibiotics, bacteria and a significantly greater concentration of microbial communities with antibiotic-resistant genes. This advanced publication of their findings will be published in the next Environmental Health Perspectives issue.

The abstract of their paper states:

Emergence and spread of antibiotic resistance has become a global health threat and is often linked with overuse and misuse of clinical and veterinary chemotherapeutic agents. Modern industrial-scale animal feeding operations rely extensively on veterinary pharmaceuticals, including antibiotics, to augment animal growth. Following excretion, antibiotics are transported through the environment via runoff, leaching, and land application of manure; however, airborne transport from feedyards has not been characterized.

Phil Smith, co-author of the study, told The Texas Tribune that the bacteria could be active for a long time and "could be traveling for long distances."

Study makes you want to hold your breath

Greg Mayer, a molecular biologist and contributor to the report, told the paper that some of the study's findings "made me not want to breathe."

The issue of antibodies being poorly absorbed by cows allows them to be released into the environment through excretion. Once in the environment, bacteria will begin the natural selection process and genes that produce natural immunities will be the ones to survive and multiply.

So how do they end up in the air? The genes that are airborne are found in dried feces that becomes dust and gets distributed by winds as they blow through the stockyards.

The Texas Tech researchers found tetracycline, chlortetracycline and oxytetracycline in 60 percent of particulate matter samples taken downwind of the cattle yards, but oxytetracycline was reported to be the most frequently detected of the three. They also reported that all downwind samples contained this one antibiotic, but so did 30 percent of the upwind samples.

The research report concluded:

Furthermore, abundance of genes encoding resistance to tetracycline antibiotics was significantly greater in PM collected downwind of feedyards as compared to upwind. Conclusions: Wind dispersed PM from feedyards harbors antibiotics, bacteria, and ARGs.

The reports and evidence are mounting in a time which scientists are calling a "post-antibiotic era," when the drugs we could rely on to save us from threats of fatal infections are no longer effective. The bacteria causing infections are now becoming immune to or "resisting" the antibiotics. Since antibiotic-resistant bacterial DNA can contaminate water or meat, it can be transferred to humans. Most scientists agree that the overuse of agricultural pharmaceuticals is a huge part of this problem. Large commercial food operations rely on antibiotics and other drugs to force faster growth of the animals.

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