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Factory farms and the rise of superbugs

News By Paul Kang'ethe | 01st Oct, 2020

Food is categorized with clothing and shelter as basic needs. We are what we eat. A balanced diet is one that is composed of quality carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins mineral salts and clean water all in the right quantities. Animal protein includes; meat, fish, milk and eggs.

People and animals eat every day.  There has been an exponential increase in global population. It is estimated that the global population will double by 2050.  This situation is not different in Kenya. The majority of arable land has been turned into commercial properties after yielding to population pressure. This has left little land for growing crops and raising animals.

Dr Victor Yamo, Farm Animals Campaigns Manager at World Animal Protection (WAP) on an interview with KTN Farmers TV noted that the demand for animal protein has risen in the recent past to unprecedented heights. Due to this, it has now become economical for producers to raise many animals in small available spaces.

This phenomenon is referred to as factory farming. Most of these farms, do not observe high levels of hygiene, biosafety and biosecurity. And as COVID-19 has reminded us, overcrowding among people as well as in animals’ increases the chances of spread of infectious diseases and thus the need to observe the social distance. This means keeping the right number of animals in a particular space is vital.

He added that diseases are expected to be prevalent in factory farms and the correct way to avoid such diseases is to observe high levels of hygiene, vaccinate healthy animals, feed and house animals appropriately.

When animals fall sick, farmers should promptly call in a Veterinarian who will make a correct diagnosis and offer appropriate treatment to the affected animals. Antimicrobials are substances used to treat diseases in animals and humans caused by organisms such as bacteria, fungi and worms.

The producers are cutting corners and self-prescribing antimicrobials for their animals. They do this by getting advice from their neighbour farmers or using medication they had used before when their animals showed similar symptoms.

Others treat their animals with small doses of medication even when they are not sick. This is gross. It makes animals fail to respond to medication when they fall sick since infectious organisms have become resistant to most of the drugs used for treatment.

This has led to rise of superbugs in animal farming or what is well known as antimicrobial resistance (AMR). It takes a lot of time and billions of money to develop any drug. Rendering these drugs useless only after a few years of use is a disastrous move that can be avoided and/ or reduced.

Similarly, Dr. Yamo said that it is ethical to observe the withdrawal period after administering antimicrobials in animals. The withdrawal period is the time stipulated for a particular drug to clear in the system of an animal before the meat, milk and eggs can be deemed fit for human consumption following treatment of the said animals with antimicrobials. Different antimicrobials have different withdrawal periods in milk, meat and eggs.

Failure to observe the withdrawal period leads to the presence of antimicrobial residues in animal products. This has been our big turn-off as a country to accessing international markets. This needs to be checked urgently so that we may reclaim the lost glory.

The presence of these residues caused antimicrobial resistance on human medicine over time. This is because both human and animal drugs are designed from the same ingredients what pharmacology (the study of drugs) calls active pharmaceutical ingredients (API).

This means that the amoxicillin that humans take when we have a respiratory infection is the same amoxicillin used to prepare a similar drug for animals and if animal residues have amoxicillin, the organisms causing the respiratory infection will be subjected to sub-lethal doses of amoxicillin leading to amoxicillin resistance.

This means no matter how much amoxicillin we take; the infection does not go away. Thus we need a stronger drug which as mentioned before is costly to develop.

Fish are the next big conduit for antimicrobial resistance. This is because, the pesticides used on the farms are taken to the rivers, lakes and oceans as run water as residues.

Fish acquire these residues from the water bodies. Similarly, when we use manure from animal houses straight on the vegetables we grow, there is a high chance of passing on resistant organisms from animal urine ad dung. When we consume these vegetables raw or undercooked, the cycle continues.

According to a recent survey done by WAP, 700,000 people die annually due to infections caused by superbugs. The study also revealed that 755 of all manufactured antimicrobials are used in farming systems.

In Kenya, chicken and pork products sampled by WAP from the leading supermarkets in Kisumu, Nanyuki, Nairobi and Nyeri were found to be the main animal products harbouring antimicrobial residues after analysis by Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) laboratories.

WAP has conducted similar surveys in Thailand, Spain, Netherlands and the United States.

We need to adopt a One Health Approach to fight this menace of AMR. This is where Human medics, Veterinarians and Environmentalists act in synergy to provide solutions on how to tackle AMR. There’s strength in unity.

Combating antimicrobial resistance and hence superbugs is the responsibility of all of us: government, producers, consumers, pharmaceutical companies, media and traders to be prudent on how we use antimicrobials and continue to create awareness on antimicrobial resistance.

Everybody has a role to play. We are as strong as the weakest link.

Author; Dr. Paul R. N. Kangethe (BVM, UoN)

Email; [email protected]

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