transfer of overt pathogens that cause specific diseases that must be reported to state or federal health agencies (Lyme disease, rabies, salmonellosis).
The data are increasing (and referenced later in this report) on the transfer of pathogens from farm animals to humans where issues of antibiotic resistance patterns in the invading organism are more frequently tracked. Many of these data come from case studies that followed reported infection and disease in higher risk groups, such as farmworkers (where epidemiological tracking has identified the source). Increased data collection on antibiotic resistance patterns is occurring largely as a result of implementation of newer technologies (developed within the past 5 to 10 years) on a broader, more affordable, and “user friendly” scale and format. In addition, databases on disease occurrence in particular food-animal species are increasing at a rapid rate.
In large part, the appearance of increasing health problems in food animals does not reflect an increase in incidence. Rather, it indicates an increase in documentation of what was probably there all along. The new data arise because of increased vigilance among producers and veterinarians who want to identify problems and provide treatments quickly to maintain productivity. Many of the successes in this effort are the direct result of voluntary implementation of quality-assurance programs and accountability procedures that are expanding throughout the food-animal industry.
The operating premises can be summarized as follows:
Antibiotic resistance is a documented major health threat around the world that has been given high priority by many health agencies (WHO 1997; IOM 1998).
Inappropriate or irresponsible uses of drugs in humans and animals in subtherapeutic and therapeutic regimens contribute to the development of drug resistance (IOM 1998).
There are opportunities in the microbial environment for interconnected ecosystems to allow exchange of DNA, promoting the spread of resistance from one genus to another. The combination of increased bacterial virulence and increased drug resistance creates a potential for increased risk of morbidity and mortality for animals and humans that some have extrapolated to a catastrophic potential. “Catastrophic” and “crisis” are words often applied to this issue, and they evoke emotional, sensational, and oftentimes inflammatory reactions that tend to distract the focus from the goal of factual assessment and hypothesis testing.
Human exposure to pathogens from animal-derived foods has been documented and can result in human disease. The relationship between those diseases and the emergence of antibiotic-resistant disease is less clear, less frequently tracked, and constitutes an area in which there is a fundamental dearth of valid data. Between the farm and the table, the large number of places and opportunities for bacteria to be introduced into the human food chain is an important factor