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Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Surround Big Swine Farms — In China as Well as the U.S.

I suspect we think of large-scale confinement agriculture as a uniquely American issue. Possibly that’s because growth-promoter antibiotic use, which makes meat-raising efficient, originated in the United States; more likely, it’s because some of the largest firms in that sector — Smithfield and Tyson, for example — are US-based. But public and private research efforts (including the US Department of Agriculture, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization and the Pew Charitable Trusts) have documented that intensive livestock-raising is increasing in emerging economies such as India and China; as incomes rise, demand for meat does too.

A paper published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences demonstrates that the unintended consequences of confinement agriculture are occurring in those countries as well. A multi-national team of researchers from Michigan State University and two campuses of the Chinese Academy of Sciences found — well, I can’t put it better than their paper’s title does: “Diverse and abundant antibiotic resistance genes in Chinese swine farms.”

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