Link Found Between Food Allergies and Farm Antibiotics

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Food allergies affect an estimated 15 million Americans, including one in 13 children. Statistics indicate something strange is afoot, as food allergies in children rose by 50 percent between 1997 and 2011 alone. bacteria

Similarly, in Great Britain one in three people are allergic to something, be it pollen, dust mites, or food.1 Previous research has drawn parallels between the rise in allergies and increased antibiotic and antimicrobial use. One study2showed exposure to antibiotics early in life increased the risk of eczema in children by 40 percent.

Other research has shown how genetically engineered foods and the use of the agricultural herbicide glyphosate destroys gut bacteria, thereby promoting allergies.

According to one recent study34 common gut bacteria called Clostridiaspecifically help prevent sensitization to food allergens. In short, by destroying gut bacteria and altering your microbiome, agricultural chemicals like glyphosate can play a significant role in creating food allergies.

Antibiotic Pesticides Can Cause Allergic Reactions

But glyphosate is not the only culprit. Part of what makes glyphosate so harmful is the fact that it has antibiotic action, and antibiotics are also part of other pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides.

Researchers now claim to have identified the first case in which a serious allergic reaction was traced to an antibiotic pesticide.56 In this case, a 10-year old girl suffered a severe allergic reaction to blueberry pie.

The culprit turned out to be a streptomycin-containing pesticide that had been applied to the blueberries. According to lead author Dr. Anne Des Roches, this is “the first report that links an allergic reaction to fruits treated with antibiotic pesticides.”

As noted by allergist Dr. James Sublett:

“This is a very rare allergic reaction. Nevertheless, it’s something allergists need to be aware of and that emergency room personnel may need to know about in order to help determine where anaphylactic reactions may arise.”

He goes on to recommend that anyone at risk of allergies should carry epinephrine, and know how to use it. While that’s certainly good advice for acute reactions, it’s not really an ideal long-term answer.

Truly, anyone suffering from food sensitivities or allergies would be wise to reconsider the kinds of foods they eat, and I don’t mean simply avoiding foods known to cause a reaction. Ultimately, your best bet is to switch to an all-organic diet.

This is particularly important for young children and pregnant women, but I really believe this is the answer for everyone, whether you’re prone to allergies or not.

Agricultural Antibiotics Also Promote Antibiotic-Resistant Disease

Along with its potential for causing food allergies, agricultural antibiotics are also a primary driver of antibiotic resistant disease. It’s important to realize that antibiotics are used:

  • In livestock as a growth promoter, and  to compensate for unsanitary living conditions
  • In pesticides applied to fresh fruits and vegetables. Vegetables can also be contaminated with antibiotics if the farmer uses manure from treated cows as crop fertilizer

I believe these are compelling reasons to eat organically. In the case of meat and other animal products such as eggs and dairy, your best bet is organicgrass-fed or pastured varieties, as organic standards forbid antibiotic use for non-medical reasons.

Organic standards7 also do not permit synthetic pesticides, bioengineered genes, petroleum-based fertilizers, or sewage sludge-based fertilizers. Organic products cannot be irradiated, are not allowed to contain preservatives or flavor-enhancing chemicals, nor can they contain traces of heavy metals or other contaminants in excess of tolerances set by the FDA.8

Additionally, the pesticide residue level cannot be higher than five percent of the maximum EPA pesticide tolerance.9 For the complete National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances under the USDA organic label, see this reference.10

It’s worth noting that this is not the first time agricultural chemicals have been linked to allergies.

The US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2005-200611concluded that:

“High urine levels of dichlorophenols are associated with the presence of sensitization to foods in a US population. Excessive use of dichlorophenols may contribute to the increasing incidence of food allergies in westernized societies.”

Dichlorophenols are also used to chlorinate water,12 which may also add to the problem. 

According to a 2013 report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on antibiotic-resistant threats,13 drug-resistant organisms in the American food supply pose “a serious threat” to public health. The report linked 22 percent of antibiotic-resistant illness in humans to contaminated foods, and earlier research14 has suggested you have a 50/50 chance of buying meat tainted with drug-resistant bacteria. Another 2013 paper by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) titledAntibiotic Resistance in Foodborne Pathogens,15 reports that between 1973 and 2011, there were 55 antibiotic-resistant foodborne outbreaks in the US.

More than half of the outbreaks involved dairy products, ground beef, and poultry. More than half of the outbreaks also involved pathogens resistant to five or more antibiotics! The fact of the matter is, when antibiotics are routinely used to raise food animals, the microbes develop resistance to the drug, which makes antibiotics less effective for treating disease in humans. And without effective antibiotics, it will be very difficult to care for premature babies, cancer patients, organ transplants, surgeries, and emergency room medicine, just to name a few.   

As noted in the video above, without antibiotics, the rate of post-operative infection can reach as high as 50 percent, and about three out of every 10 affected patients will die as a result… We’re already seeing the effects of antibiotic overuse.Hospital-acquired infections now affect one in 25 patients, and many of these infections are drug resistant. According to CDC statistics,16 two million American adults and children become infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year, and at least 23,000 of them die.

Crazy enough, even though certain organisms have already become immune to every single antibiotic we have, including so-called “last resort” drugs, factory farms are still using some of these last resort drugs in their livestock for non-medical purposes! It is truly difficult to understand how a little extra profit can justify the use of drugs that will, in the end, lead to the death of thousands of people, courtesy of drug-resistance!

Antibiotics in Agriculture Must Be Eliminated to Solve This Problem

Use of antibiotics in healthy livestock (including farmed fish) account for about 80 percent of all antibiotic use in the US,17 so in order to halt the growth of antibiotic resistance we really must address this source. According to a 2009 report18 by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on this subject, factory farms used 29 million pounds of antibiotics that year alone.

The FDA recently asked drug companies to voluntarily remove growth-promotion claims from certain antibiotics that are valuable in treating human disease. This would reduce usage by limiting the drug to medical purposes only. But there are so many loopholes that it’s highly unlikely that this voluntary strategy is going to be sufficient. Especially when you consider the rapid increase in antibiotic-resistance we’re now seeing. Just last year, the CDC published a report19 admitting that antibiotics used in livestock plays a significant role in antibiotic resistance and “should be phased out.” 

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