Crisis in Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria: Are you Chicken? A Community Conversation Reflection

During the autumn round of Community Conversations in Portland, OR and Seattle and Spokane, How Bacteria Become Resistant to ABXWA, we discussed the concern that ongoing antibiotic use in large-scale commercial chicken farms is producing antibiotic resistant (ABR) bacteria that contribute to more difficult-to-treat human diseases. In a 2014 report on antibiotic (ABX) resistance, the World Health Organization warns of humanity heading for a “post-antibiotic” era in which antibiotics can’t keep up with ABR and the diseases they cause.

Who are the stakeholders in this situation? Large- and small-scale farmers, consumers, researchers looking for new drugs that kill bacteria and medical professionals who want healthy patients. With all these stakeholders, how are we to address this potential public health crisis?

The One Health Initiative holds that human, animal and environmental health are all connected. ABX use practices in food animal agriculture are of particular interest, but not everyone agrees that there is sufficient evidence that the use of ABX in chickens (or other food animals) directly results in ABR infections in people.

Despite expected regional differences, participants in the Conversations were united in several areas. One, we simply need more data. The Food and Drug Administration only recently (2009) began collecting sales data for antimicrobials in food-producing animals. No one is sure what is actually being used. Legislation attempts to limit ABX use and require record-keeping both federally and in some states, including Oregon, have not garnered enough support. Two, consumer education needs are high. We are inundated with messaging and food labeling that is sometimes great marketing (rBST-free!—but there isn’t a significant difference in the milk from cows treated or not with rBST) but low on information (how are egg-laying hens treated if they are cage free?). Many of us still believe that if we have a cold for more than 3 days we are good candidates for antibiotics. Three, the conversation tends to use rhetoric that is sensationalized and prevents authentic discussion. For example, “factory farms are overusing antibiotics and are mostly responsible for this crisis.” Toxic rhetoric.

Participants rallied around some practical action items. People committed to investigating the meaning of food labels. People committed to better hand washing and to touching their faces less often (did you know 30% of people carry MRSA in their nose?). Many also committed to sharing their new knowledge both professionally and personally.

All in all, this round of Community Conversations was high in energy and commitment to better living through smarter consumption of food, data and antibiotics.

Many thanks to our facilitators Kathy Hessler, JD, LL.M and Emma Newton, MS (Portland); Heather Fowler, VMD, MPH and Paul Pottinger, MD (Seattle); and Doug Call, PhD (Spokane). Thank you to our Spokane Series Sponsor, Whitworth University.

 

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Community Conversation – 23andMe – What Can Your Genes Tell You

Last evening (Tuesday March 18, 2014) the Northwest Association for Biomedical Research (NWABR) hosted a Community Conversation that explored the issues around Direct-To-Consumer Genetic Testing.

These Community Conversations are a partnership between NWABR and the Institute for Translational Health Sciences at the University of Washington.  The purpose of these Community Conversations is to enable members of the public to become engaged with emerging issues in the bioscience realm.  Our hope is that an engaged public will be better placed to think through complex scientific and ethical issues, make informed contributions, build relations with experts in the field – and most importantly – provide those same experts with feedback from a community perspective on these issues.

At the Community Conversation hosted yesterday evening around 35 people gathered to discuss direct-to-consumer genetic testing services.  The company 23andMe has been providing this service to customers and approximately 650,000 people have both had their DNA tested and agreed to share their records to help build a DNA database that will, hopefully, in the future improve the accuracy of the findings that 23andMe can report to their customers.

The FDA has asked 23andMe to stop marketing the health benefits of this testing service and to no longer provide direct findings to customers about any health implications arising from the genetic tests that they perform.  The FDA is concerned that a consumer may misinterpret the results that they receive from 23andMe and subsequently make poorly informed health care decisions.

Yesterday’s Community Conversation was held at Kakao Chocolate + Coffee in Westlake.  The Conversation was facilitated by Sarah Nelson and Lorelei Walker, who are MPH and PhD candidates in Public Health Genetics at the University of Washington.  Following the presentations from Ms. Nelson and Ms. Walker the participants had a wide ranging discussion that touched on: privacy, trust, potential commercializing of DNA, the need for access to this information. the need for help in interpreting the information, resistance from some members of the medical community, the current lack of diversity in the 23andMe database, support for and frustration with the FDA and much more.

As we the staff at NWABR watched the conversation progress we were amazed that such a great group had come out on a Tuesday evening, given up their own time, and dived so eagerly into this complex area.  We were again reminded of just how rich discussions can be when these two sometimes diverse worlds come together.

Regards

Ken Gordon

Executive Director

Northwest Association for Biomedical Research