Antibiotic resistance is a looming public health concern expected to kill up to 10 million people annually by 2050. Now, in the latest worrying development in the United States, Ohio State University researchers have found a bacteria resistant to last resort antibiotics, called carbapenems, on a pig farm that is barred from using them.
The pig farm followed what the researchers describe as “typical US production practices” by giving their animals the antibiotic ceftiofur. Newborn pigs receive the antibiotic when they’re born, and when males are castrated, they’re given another dose. Ceftiofur is part of the cephalosporin family, but kills bacteria in a manner comparable to carbapenems.
The Ohio State researchers collected samples from the pig farm for five months to discover the superbug, Enterobacteriaceae, which Natural Resources Defense Council expert David Wallinga described in a blog post as “one of the nastier superbugs.” The journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy published the researchers’ study online this week.
Study co-author Thomas Wittum told TIME, “How the [resistant bacteria] got onto the farm we really don’t know. But probably it was introduced from the outside from movements of wildlife, people, equipment, etc.” During the study the researchers didn’t discover the bacteria in the pigs, but Wittum told TIME they later did see the superbug in piglets and sows. He said, “…that is the concern: that it could happen on this or other farms.”
What does this discovery mean for US agriculture? In 2012, the Obama administration established guidelines that will go into effect in January 2017. The guidelines would limit the use of antibiotics on farms, but they are voluntary. Meanwhile, according to Mother Jones, advisers to the new President-elect appear to be resistant to regulation when it comes to food production.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the bacteria found on the pig farm already kills as many as 600 people every year.