FAIR WAS FOUL IN UPSTATE N.Y.
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 1999:
GREENWICH (N.Y.)– – Animal
manure polluting a well is blamed for cultivating
the verotoxin-producing e-coli bacteria
strain (VTEC) that killed two visitors to the
Washington County Fair in upstate New York
in early September. Another 611 fell ill.
Fifty-eight people were hospitalized
––nine on dialysis––due to potentially fatal
hemolytic uremic syndrome caused by VTEC.
The week-long fair closed on
August 29, 1999. Rachel Aldrich, age three,
died on September 4. Her two-year-old sister
Kaylea survived on dialysis. Most victims
were reportedly between ages three and 14,
but the second to die, on September 10, was
Ernest Wester, 79, of Albany.
The epidemic hit close to home––
our former home––for ANIMAL PEOPLE.
While located in nearby Shushan, 1992-1996,
ANIMAL PEOPLE annually attended the
Washington County Fair, researching animal
exhibitions, rodeos, the 4-H Club, and the
New York Department of Environmental
Conservation efforts to recruit young hunters.
We drank lemonade possibly made with water
from the polluted well.
At the time, VTEC was known to
occur only in undercooked meat, and had
only become a public health concern after
killing five children––four in Washington
state, one in California––who ate contaminated
hamburgers in January 1993. As vegetarians,
we thought we were safe.
Most forms of e-coli are benign.
Why VTEC emerged is unclear, but health
experts and factory farm critics have warned
for decades that the growing use of antibiotics
as a routine prophylactic feed additive would
promote the evolution of more deadly bacteria.
Peter Singer and Jim Mason, for
instance, mentioned the threat in the 1980
first edition of their book Animal Factories.
Only in the late 1990s, however, has agricultural
antibiotic use drawn serious regulatory
attention, driven by studies hinting that the
consequences may already be out of control.
In the case of VTEC, said ProMed
emerging disease surveillance network managing
editor Ed Schroder, “Antibiotic resistance
is not usually an issue,” medically
speaking, as “it is generally considered that
antibiotics are not useful to treat hemolytic
uremic syndrome. It is possible that some of
these strains also carry antibiotic resistance
markers,” Schroder added, “but most investigators
don’t worry about this too much.”
However, rising antibiotic resistance
is a serious issue in responding to many
other bacterial diseases. The Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention in May 1998
announced via The New England Journal o f
Medicine that bacteria-resistant salmonella,
unknown in 1980, are now involved in 34%
of reported salmonella poisoning cases.
The British medical journal T h e
L a n c e t in February 1999 published a letter
from University of Maryland researchers who
said they found vancomycin-resistant bacteria
never reported in chickens in the U.S. in
sealed sacks of feed which they opened in
sterile conditions. Since chicken feed pellets
are cooked at temperatures that normally kill
all bacteria, the finding hints that some socalled
“super-bugs” have already evolved and
been distributed throughout the world.
Migratory waterfowl may be tbe
intercontinental carriers. Flocks from Europe,
Asia, and North America might pick up bacteria
from farm runoff, infect each other while
summering in the Arctic, and then depoist the
bacteria wherever else they go.
But humans are also major carriers.
The May 20 edition of The New England
J o u r n a l of Medicine published a report that
Americans who eat meat abroad may often
bring unfamiliar forms of antibiotic-resistant
bacteria home with them. These bacteria have
evolved in response to foreign use in livestock
of classes of antibiotic reserved in the U.S. for
emergency human treatment. Though most of
the resistant bacteria are harmless, some are
not, and any of them might mutate into deadly
forms when introduced into a new habitat.
Ten days later the American Society
for Microbiology annual meeting heard from
Ronald J. Ash, of Washburn University in
Topeka, Kansas, that ampicillin failed to kill
between 5% and 50% of the bacteria he found
in water samples at 21 sites on 15 rivers.
Keith L. Sternes of Sul Ross State
University in Alpine, Texas reported that bacteria
found in the Rio Grande are often resistant
to vancomycin, which has been considered
the penicillin drug of last resort.
John Bennett, of Clarke College in
Dubuque, Iowa, discovered tetracyclineresistant
bacteria in 95% of the permanent
streams of Dubuque County.
Monica L. Tischler, of Benedictine
University in Lisle, Illinois, found common
bacteria in wild Canada goose feces that
resisted streptomycin, erthromycin, vancomycin,
tetracycline, and all penicillin-class
drugs. Since the wild geese had not been
deliberately given antibiotics, the resistant
bacteria almost certainly came from water
contaminated by domestic livestock or fowl.
In Britain, the Advisory Committee
on the Microbiological Safety of Food in
August 1999 ended the first official review of
antibiotic resistance since 1969 by stating that
“The evidence we considered shows conclusively
that antibiotics given to animals result
in the emergence of some resistant bacteria
which can affect humans.”
The committee called for “reduced
reliance on the use of antimicrobials in food
animal production; consideration of resistance
in the authorisation of veterinary medicines;
adoption of a cautious approach to the
use of antibiotics as growth promoters; avoiding
use of antibiotics closely related to those
used in human medicine” in livestock, and
“further research and surveillance.”
Warned committee chair Doug
Georgala, “The arrival of new antibiotics is
likely to be rarer than in the past. Therefore
preserving the efficacy of what we have, for
both human and animal welfare, is very
The European Union anticipated the
new findings in December 1998, banning
farm use of four drugs which had accounted
for 15% of all European veterinary antibiotic
sales. Phased in over six months, the ban is
to be reviewed in 2002. It was barely in effect
when British authorities found antibiotic bootlegging
underway in at least four regions.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration
in January 1999 began reviewing the
approval process for veterinary antibiotics,
over strong opposition from drug makers.
More than 40% of all antibiotics made in the
U.S. are fed to livestock and poultry. Jumping
on the bandwagon, the Humane Society of
the U.S. on April Fool’s Day sued the FDA
for not moving faster to reduce agricultural
antibiotic use, and U.S. Senators Bill Frist (RTenn.)
and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.)
reportedly began drafting relevant legislation.