Blowin’ in the Wind: Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria ‘Dust’ from Factory Farms is Airborne

Blowin' in the Wind: Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria 'Dust' from Factory Farms is Airborne

Factory farm raised livestock animals proliferate the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and new research suggests the antibiotic-resistant bacteria may be airborne, traveling through dust from farm to farm.

Antibiotics are fed to animals as preventatives against developing infections, but they’re also added to livestock feed to boost the animals’ weight quickly. This practice is controversial because of the rising number of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in humans.

Now, new research out of Texas Tech University published in the recent issue of National Institutes of Environmental Science’s journal, Environmental Health Perspectives, says antibiotic-resistant bacteria are spreading through the air, traveling from massive factory farms to other farms and into human environments.

“Scientists collected air samples upwind and downwind of 10 feedlots in the southern High Plains region and found greater amounts of bacteria, antibiotics and DNA sequences responsible for antibiotic resistance downwind of the feedlots compared to upwind,” reports Food Safety News.

“The scientists couldn’t tell if the amounts of materials they found were dangerous to human health but said their findings help characterize how pathogens could travel long distances to places inhabited by humans.”

The researchers say the study helps give scientists a better glimpse of how antibiotic resistance spreads through the environment, “This is an attempt to provide better clarity on that issue,” Philip Smith, an associate professor of terrestrial ecotoxicology at the university’s Institute of Environmental and Human Health said in Food Safety News.

While the researchers have not yet sampled air from urban environments to determine whether or not the antibiotic-resistant bacteria were present, they say it’s “proof” on the principle that the bacteria could be airborne, further compounding the spread of highly untreatable infections.

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Feedlot image via Shutterstock

Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites OrganicAuthority.com and EcoSalon.com, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better. www.jillettinger.com.