Study: Factory farms breeding ‘superbugs’

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Speculation has long abounded that overuse of antibiotics by factory farmers has been a major contributing factor in the development of so-called “superbugs” like MRSA or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Now, according to a report from Mother Jones, there is scientific proof.

According to a paper in the American Society of Microbiology’s newsletter mBio, researchers have sequenced the genomes of 88 closely-related strains of Staphylococcus aureus. They have concluded that one “particularly nasty” strain, CC398, began as a fairly harmless human bacterium known as MSSA, but evolved after colonizing the systems of pigs, chickens and other livestock.

Inside the animals, the bacterial strain was bombarded by an array of broad-spectrum antibiotics, drugs commonly used by factory farmers to reduce infections and disease in animals kept in close quarters. According to mBio, this allowed the germs to become resistant to antibiotics like tetracycline and methicillin, as well as allowing the microorganisms to become “bidirectional,” meaning that they can freely be transmitted between humans and livestock.

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