In 2005, despite many detractors, I was asked to give the keynote speech at the CDC PulseNet Conference held in Seattle. During and after my talk, the world did not stop revolving and the sun did come up the next day (although in Seattle it is always a bit hazy). I think those in attendance learned a few things about what happens after their investigation ends, and I learned that scientists are far less boring than I thought.

As I left the stage and headed for the door (I was not invited to stay for lunch) a young, geekish, looking fellow followed me out the door, and to the street as I walked back towards my office. As he furtively looked around to make sure no one saw him taking to “that trial lawyer,” he said to me in hushed tones – “antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a risk to us all.” “It is in animal feed and YOU need to do something about it.” Before I could say anything, he dashed away, hoping that none of his fellow science-types witnessed the exchange.

In hindsight, for some reason, I am reminded of that scene in “The Graduate”, when Dustin Hoffman was given the business suggestion – “One Word: Plastics.”

Now, Bill Tomson of the WSJ wrote today – “Hog Farmers Overuse Antibiotics, Government Data Show.” Not generally know for its concern towards consumers, the WSJ reported:

Hog farmers are overusing antibiotics on their herds and that may be creating antibiotic-resistant bacteria that pose a threat to human health, Edward Knipling, head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research branch, said Wednesday.

Data collected by the USDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show there is a problem that could be exposing Americans to bacteria like Escherichia coli and Campylobacter that have become resistant to antibiotics, Mr. Knipling told a panel of House lawmakers. E. coli causes infectious gastroenteritis and Campylobacter is a bacterial food-borne illness.

The Food and Drug Administration warned hog, cattle and chicken producers last year in a draft guidance letter to stop the widespread practice of feeding antibiotics to livestock, which is commonly done to accelerate animal growth. The document did not mandate the farmers change their behavior, though. Mr. Knipling focused on hogs in his remarks before a House Appropriations subcommittee, but the FDA has warned antibiotic overuse is also a problem on the cattle and chicken operations.

One word, well two words – “Antibiotic-Resistance.”