Thursday, August 29, 2013

Black Death & the Chicken Mafia

Many members of the Chicken Mafia regularly dose their thousands of chickens with antibiotics.  This helps reduce their risk of a major disease outbreak, helping to ensure their profits.  As Blogged previously in Bugs & Drugs this profit seeking behaviour by the Chicken Mafia puts everybody at great risk.

One of the drugs of choice used by the Chicken Mafia is Bayer's Baytril 10%  This is a enrofloxacin  (a.k.a. ciprofloxicin which it partially metabolizes to) which belongs to the class of the fluoroquinolones.  These are very powerful drugs also used for human infections, and are Class I antibiotics (ie. essential for treating human disease).  The loss of fluoroquinolones due to antibiotic resistance would be a serious blow to a physicians drug arsenal.

Prescribing of this drug to poultry in Canada is prohibited by Health Canada's VDD (Veterinary Drug Directorate).  The only permitted use of Baytril 10% in Canada is bovine (cow & steer & heifer) lung infections.  Even then, Health Canada cautions that this drug is not to be used indiscriminately.  It appears that this ban is not being followed.

Here is Health Canada's Policy for Extra-Label Drug Use  Are all Canadian Vets following this important Policy?  Are DVM's (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine) complicit in the use of banned drugs for broiler birds, or is it just a few "loose cannons" in the Chicken Mafia who import the illicit drugs themselves and feed it to their chickens?

Let's see where this ill-advised and suspected bad behaviour by the Chicken Mafia might take us.

The Chicken Mafia is supposed to have biosecurity (see this Blog posting).  They have been working on this for decades, and in April 2013 CFO finally claims that 100% of their Mafia members are now compliant.  As a Certified Quality Auditor, I can tell you that even if CFO claims 100% enrolled and audited, there is significant doubt whether all of these 1,114 chicken factories are 100% compliant for 100% of the time.

Rat flea.  About 1% of N. America rat fleas are infected
with Yersinia pestis (a.k.a. Bubonic Plague)
Rats are a known problem at a chicken factory.  Baby chicks and chicken feed are like a smorgasbord feast for a rat.  If a chicken can drink from a water bib faucet, so can a rat.  A chicken factory has everything that a rat could ask for. That's why rats show up at chicken factories soon after they open their doors and start growing chicken.  The chicken producer is supposed to have rat traps, check them often, pest control contractors, and clean apron belts around all buildings where the rats can't hide.

Since the rat is drinking from the same faucet as the chickens, they also get medicated by whatever the chicken producer puts into the chicken's water.  That includes Bayer's Baytril 10%  Therefore all rats that hang out in chicken factories will get treated with the drugs as well.

Most rats have fleas. The fleas bite the rat continuously, sucking the rat's blood. Any drugs that are in the rat's bloodstream are then automatically shared with the rat's fleas. Given enough time and incidents, the fleas on the rats will have Yersinia pestis (a.ka. Bubonic Plague) bacteria that are resistant to this antibiotic. Due to acquired resistance and gene exchange, many other bacteria could thereby become resistant to Baytril, as well as many other antibiotics.

In the US according to Centre for Disease Control, there are 10 to 15 people each year who get infected by Bubonic Plague.  Based on population ratios, that would be 1 to 1.5 people with Bubonic Plague per year in Canada.  In June 2012, a 50 year old man in Oregon, previously in good health, died from Bubonic Plague from a flea on a mouse that a neighbourhood cat had caught.  In spite of hospitalization and every drug and treatment available in our most modern hospitals, he quickly died.

As antibiotic drug resistance grows, might death be a more frequent outcome of contracting Bubonic Plague?

If you remember your history, that same disease is also referred to as "Black Death", the same disease that wiped out 33% of Europe's population in 5 short years ( 1348 - 1353).  Canadian researchers from McMaster University recently proved that Yersinia pestis (a.k.a. Bubonic Plague) in North America today is the exact same as the one that wiped out Europe  in the Middle Ages.

Welch et al reports that  the plasmid IP1202 in Multi-Drug Resistant Yersinia pestis gives it high-level resistance to streptomycin, tetracycline, chloramphenicol and sulfonamides—drugs recommended for plague prophylaxis and therapy.  They continue:
"Y. pestis pIP1202-like plasmid backbone was detected in numerous MDR [Multi Drug Resistant] enterobacterial pathogens isolated from retail meat samples collected between 2002 and 2005 in the United States. Plasmid-positive strains were isolated from beef, chicken, turkey and pork, and were found in samples from the following states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York and Oregon. Our studies reveal that this common plasmid backbone is broadly disseminated among MDR zoonotic pathogens associated with agriculture. This reservoir of mobile resistance determinants has the potential to disseminate to Y. pestis and other human and zoonotic bacterial pathogens and therefore represents a significant public health concern."
  Wagner et al also reported:
"To determine whether the IncA/C plasmid backbone previously found in MDR Y. pestis and other species exists in Y. pestis isolates from western U.S. states, we screened Y. pestis DNA."
"The 713 isolates were collected from from humans, small mammals, and fleas in 14 of the 17 western plague-endemic states (Table), including all states that reported human cases during 1970–2002.  Of the 713 Y. pestis isolates screened, none was positive for the IncA/C plasmid backbone, indicating that MDR as mediated by pIP1202-like MDR plasmids described by Welch et al. (6) was not in these samples. This finding is encouraging with regard to public health. However, we screened only for the plasmid backbone; MDR genes may have been in some of these samples but not carried by pIP1202-like MDR plasmids, especially considering that plasmids can be readily integrated into the Y. pestis chromosome (1)."
"Could MDR Y. pestis arise in North America by acquisition of an MDR plasmid, such as pIP1202, from food-animal production activities in plague-endemic regions? If so, Salmonella spp. would be a likely MDR plasmid donor for several reasons. First, Y. pestis has several plasmids that are highly similar to those in Salmonella spp., indicating active transfer of plasmids between these 2 bacterial groups (6). Second, fleas that are common vectors of plague have been shown to be naturally co-infected with Salmonella spp. and Y. pestis and capable of transmitting both organisms to rodent hosts (9). Third, MDR plasmids are readily transferred to Y. pestis in the flea gut (5). Fourth, transferable MDR plasmids are common among Salmonella spp. isolates in US food animals (10). Given these linkages, the transfer of an MDR plasmid from Salmonella spp. to Y. pestis seems possible. However, we emphasize that to date no evidence supports this type of event. "
Urich et al did similar work on a world-wide basis, and had similar results.

In short, we have created a biological booby trap.  Fortunately, humans have not yet been caught in our own MDR trap; at least not yet for Y. pestis.  When this trap eventually does spring shut on our leg, the abuse of antibiotics in chicken factory farms will likely be the culprit that triggers the trap to chomp on the legs of society.

Alberta might be the only Province that is safe from this doomsday scenario, as they claim to be 100% rat free.  For the other Provinces, CFIA is supposed to be monitoring and inspecting to ensure that illegal drugs are not used, or legal drugs are not used in a banned or discouraged manner.  Unfortunately, CFIA seems to have placed the Chicken Mafia on the honor system.  CFIA seems to blindly trust everything that the #ChickeMafia does.

Is the Chicken Mafia worthy of CFIA's blind trust?

How about your trust in both CFIA and the Chicken Mafia?

Are Small Flockers equally guilty?  Due to the low density used by small flockers, the use of this expensive drug is not a necessity, so there is no reason to do so.  A CFO audit of Small Flockers shows that reasonable biosecurity measures are taken by most Small Flockers, so there is much less risk of anything, including antibiotic resistance.

Is there full awareness by Health Canada, Chicken Mafia, CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency), Bayer, and your friendly neighbourhood DVM (Doctor Veterinary Medicine) who prescribed and possibly dispensed the Baytril 10% drug for this ill-advised, and illegal risk management scenario?

Do they care?

Perhaps as long as their big salaries and their monthly chicken quota cheques keep coming, they don't give a damn about the possible consequences.  Perhaps they do care, but choose not to stop it anyway.

What about you?  Do you care?

What would you tell these fine people who illegally feed Baytril 10% to chickens and have incomplete rat control systems?

Leave a comment so we all know what you're thinking.

2015/04/09 Update:   Bubonic plague outbreak in Arizona USA.  Public Health officials respond by disinfecting to kill fleas before disease outbreak infects humans.

2018/06/14 Update:  Cases of Black Death continue to occur in USA, mainly in the rural Western part of the USA.However, there are a significant number in California, near where CAFO farming also occurs.  If some small change occurs for one of the vector carriers (ie. a rat, cat, dog, etc.) that enters a congested urban area with high density homeless people, or a CAFO farm, the disease could suddenly ignite like wildfire, similar to the Middle Ages when 1/3 of the population died.  Can (or will, or when will) this natural reservoir of Black Death soon spill over into the commercial CAFO farming system (chicken, turkey, pig, etc.)?


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  2. Thanks for your feedback.

    This posting did take a significant amount of time to research. It's complicated, like life and natural eco-systems. The unintended consequences of the #ChickenMafia's actions are significant and scary. I'm glad you found this helpful to better understand the risks and consequences. I'm disappointed that neither the Federal or Provincial authorities, nor the #ChickenMafia take the risks seriously.

    My example is but one possibility, there are many other risks too. While this risk may not exist for some unknown reason, the precautionary principle is likely a wise policy.

    After writing this posting, I subsequently contacted the Provincial Chief Veterinarians and the Provincial Vet licensing bodies across Canada, and shared it with them. Of them, only 1 was interested, and said they would reinforce this issue with their members. Most got upset that I would suggest wrong-doing by any Vet, and refused to investigate unless I had concrete evidence against a specific Vet, and I was willing and able to specifically name that Vet, and provide prima facie evidence of any wrongdoing.

    Hidden, closed, and non-transparent denial by most or all authorities

    What will Canadians do about this sad, risky situation?

    Will they call their MPP, MP or the College of Vets to complain?

    Glenn Black
    Small Flock Poultry Farmers of Canada


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