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In a significant win in the fight to save antibiotics, McDonald's—the largest and most iconic burger chain on the planet—announced Tuesday that it will address the use of antibiotics in its international supply chain for beef by 2021.

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Tawatchai Prakobkit / EyeEm / Getty Images

Sanderson Farms announced Friday that it will stop unnecessarily administering two medically important antibiotics—the only two it reports using—in its chickens by March 1, 2019. The company will use the two antibiotics only when treating ailing animals or to control diseases in flocks with some sick birds. "This is a welcome change of heart and good news for people's health," said David Wallinga, senior health officer at NRDC. "To inspire consumer confidence, however, these new pledges will need to be independently verified."

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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Jeffery Martin / CC0 1.0

By Erik D. Olson and Lena Brook

We live in partisan times, as anyone who had to sit through Thanksgiving dinner with distant relatives can probably attest. But even your crazy uncle would agree that the safety of our food shouldn't be a partisan issue. No one wants their child to get sick from eating a hamburger, chicken, or—in the case of the current E. coli outbreak—romaine lettuce. Yet last week's empty Thanksgiving salad bowls are a harbinger of what's to come if our federal government does not start taking food safety seriously.

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A shopper examines a package of meat in a grocery store for freshness. USDA / CC BY 2.0

The latest round of tests by federal scientists found antibiotic-resistant bacteria on nearly 80 percent of supermarket meat in 2015, according to a new analysis by the Environmental Working Group.

Those bacteria were resistant to at least one of 14 antibiotics tested for by the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System, a federal public health partnership.

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By Rob Minto

The global superbug crisis is a complicated, long-term problem. The video below explains how it starts, spreads and its impact. But there are many other—sometimes surprising—aspects to this crisis.

There is one key way in which superbugs start. Whether it is in animals or humans, the initial point is where antibiotics kill off drug-susceptible bacteria, leaving drug-resistant bacteria to multiply.

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Pharmaceutical waste in Hyderabad, India. Christian Baars

By Madlen Davies and Sam Loewenberg

Many of the world's leading drug manufacturers may be leaking antibiotics from their factories into the environment, according to a new report from a drug industry watchdog. This risks creating more superbugs.

The report surveyed household-name pharmaceutical giants like GSK, Novartis and Roche as well as generic companies which make non-branded products for the NHS and other health systems.

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Digitally-colorized scanning electron microscopic image of Enterococcus faecalis. Pete Wardell / CDC

A breakthrough in antibiotic resistance was reported last week. Scientists had re-engineered the drug vancomycin—used against extremely resistant infections including MRSA—to make it stronger and stop bugs becoming immune to it. Vancomycin has been prescribed for 60 years and is a highly effective antibiotic—yet in some countries bacteria are developing resistance.

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Pollution in Hyderabad. Christian Baars / NDR

By Madlen Davies

Industrial pollution from Indian pharmaceutical companies making medicines for nearly all the world's major drug companies is fueling the creation of deadly superbugs, suggests new research. Global health authorities have no regulations in place to stop this happening.

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An image of drug-resistant bacteria under the microscope

Following a four-month battle for his life, Chris Linaman committed to sharing his story to help raise awareness about the growing threat posed by antibiotic-resistant bacteria. As executive chef at a large medical center, he is also driving change at an institutional level, harnessing his purchasing power to support the responsible use of antibiotics in food animals.

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Photo credit: Peter Muller

By Lena Brook

What can America's most iconic fast-food chicken chain do to fight the growing epidemic of drug-resistant infections? Set a strong antibiotics policy for its chicken supply!

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Photo credit: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

By David Wallinga, MD

Kids can die from superbugs, just as adults do. But a new study last week was among the first I'd seen to dive more deeply and specifically into how this superbug crisis threatens your kids.

The study's findings, which the author called "ominous," appeared in the Journal of the Pediatric Infectious Disease Society. One takeaway was that infections among hospitalized kids due to one nasty superbug, called multidrug-resistant (MDR) Enterobacteriaceae, rose a dramatic 750 percent from 2007 to 2015. One particular variety of the same menace tops a new World Health Organization priority list of global bacterial superbug threats released Monday.

Enterobacteriaceae are a particularly problematic family of gram negative bacteria that includes E. coli, Klebsiella and Salmonella. It's also among the many such superbugs that we already know are found in the U.S. food supply and on farms, as Natural Resources Defense Council's Carmen Cordova blogged Monday.

Strains of Enterobacteriaceae have been popping up in U.S. patients that are pan-resistant (resistant to every medicine), or nearly so, including to colistin and carbapenem, two drugs of last resort that doctors rely upon when all else fails. On U.S. hog farms, too, they've found super-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, some of them carrying resistance to colistin or carbapenems, even thought neither is thought to be used in U.S. hog production.

This study looked over an eight year time period at 94,000 kids discharged from children's hospitals, and who'd also had infections due to Enterobacteriaceae—mostly E. coli urinary tract infections, as it turns out. Thankfully, none of the infections were pan-resistant. But by the end of the period, in 2015, 15 of every thousand of these kids had had infections resistant to multiple antibiotics—more than seven times higher than the incidence among the kids being discharged eight years earlier. Moreover the kids with resistant Enterobacteriaceae infections had hospital stays 20 percent longer compared to kids whose infections were not resistant.

The incredibly rapid rise in MDR Enterobacteriaceae infections among kids is especially ominous. Younger patients have less developed immune systems than adults, so are less able to mount an effective defense against such infections. Much less recognized is the fact that there simply aren't as many antibiotics available to treat sick kids as there are for adults; rising resistance to existing medicines only compounds the already limited choices facing a pediatrician.

One final, worrisome note. To date, super-resistant infections caused by gram negative bacteria like the Enterobacteriaceae have mostly been a problem in hospitals. The fear, and the expectation, was that as resistance worsened, infections would begin to arise among healthier populations out in community settings, as well. But in this study, more than three-quarters of the children with multidrug-resistant infections came to the hospital already infected. That means they contracted those infections from friends, families, food or farms—somewhere else in the community—and not from other patients or staff while in the hospital.

Driving the development and spread of superbugs like this one are U.S. federal policies that still allow the antibiotics important to humans to be routinely given en masse to flocks and herds of food animals, at low doses and over long periods of time in the animal feed or water. Absent tighter federal controls, it's critical that states step up to the plate instead. In Maryland, the Keep Antibiotics Effective Act of 2017 is an important bill trying do just that, by ensuring antibiotics are only given to livestock when they are sick.

That's the kind of leadership that's needed to reverse the trend towards rising numbers of painful, expensive, and ever-harder-to-treat infections in children's hospitals, including at Johns Hopkins, the University of Maryland and elsewhere.

David Wallinga is a physician with more than 20 years of experience in writing, policy and advocacy at the intersection of food, nutrition, sustainability and public health. Wallinga is the senior health officer at Natural Resources Defense Council.

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