Researchers from North Carolina State University have found identical strains of antibiotic-resistant Campylobacter coli (C. coli) in both antibiotic-free (ABF) and conventionally raised pigs. This finding may indicate that these antibiotic-resistant pathogens can persist and thrive in the environment, regardless of antimicrobial usage by pork producers.
Dr. Siddhartha Thakur, assistant professor of population health and pathobiology, had previously found that antibiotic-resistant C. coli, a leading cause of foodborne illness in the U.S., was present in both ABF-certified and conventionally raised pigs. The pathogen was present in both groups in all facilities from breeding to processing. Thakur wanted to determine whether the C. coli that he found in each group was genetically the same, in order to see if the presence or absence of antimicrobial usage had an effect on the pathogen's genetic makeup.
The rise of antibiotic-resistant pathogens like C. coli is a concern for the food animal industry. Some pig farms have switched to raising ABF pigs in an attempt to get away from the conditions that facilitated antibiotic resistance in the first place. The hope is that once the selection pressure - in the form of antimicrobial use - on C. coli to retain antibiotic resistance decreases, the pathogen will lose its resistance.