LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - Experts have raised many concerns about the extensive use of antibiotics on animals on these farms, but a team of researchers from Texas Tech's Institute of Environmental and Human Health collected air samples from different feedlots in our area and discovered an interesting strain of bacteria.
"I think it's important to note that our discovery of antibiotics, genetic information, identifying a whole host of bacterial species and genetic sequences that indeed code for antibiotic resistance," Phil Smith, an associate professor at Texas Tech's Department of Toxicology, said. "This is the first time - to our knowledge - that this trifecta of antibiotic resistance has been discovered in the air."
Smith and his team has been conducting their research for about seven years. They have pinned down this strain of bacteria's source.
"There's no question," Smith said. "Antibiotics are used extensively as growth promoters and for treatment of disease in animal agriculture."
With the high frequency of wind and dust here in the South Plains, Smith and his team are still trying to determine how fast the bacteria can travel into urban populations.
"The smaller particles are able to stay suspended in the air for a longer period of time and are therefore able to travel much greater distances," Smith said. "There is potential for these particulates to be transported not only across the state, across the country, but perhaps internationally."
They are also examining how it could impact human health.
"That doesn't mean that humans are necessarily at risk, so our next step is to determine how far these particulates may move and what happens when they settle out," Smith said.
Despite what he has learned from his research, Smith doesn't fault farmers' and producers' manner of raising cattle.
"I love a great steak," Smith said. "I love a hamburger and I know that a lot of people do. We all want good, healthy food choices; but we also want good prices. It's important to produce a good, healthy product, which our beef producers do, and do it in a manner that is economical for a large population."
He does hope his findings will help raise awareness to this issue and foster good stewardship.
"We want to produce information [and] data that is useful for wise decision-making," Smith said. "I think those three sort of trifecta of antibiotic resistance together in particulate matter gives us something to think about. It's important to think about how use antibiotics and how we use them in the future."
Smith said that there isn't any information in his study that would be a cause for panic and that it is still too early for him and his team to make any leaps in the negative effects associated with the bacteria.