Scientists had expected that, on farms where the practice of giving antibiotics to livestock has ceased, germ immunity would slowly fade away. Alas, that is not the case:
To the team’s surprise, the entire bug community kept most of its armor against the antibiotics, even after 2 ½ years. When the researchers grew the bacteria in the lab, for example, 70% to 100% of them were still resistant to chlortetracycline when the pigs were slaughtered. “I didn’t expect such high levels of resistance would remain,” says Chénier, whose team will publish the results in the January issue of Microbial Ecology.
It might be due to resistance genes being attached to other genes that remain useful. Or it could be due to reinfection from fertiliser:
The new data, he says, suggest that the common practice of using swine waste as a fertilizer is like spreading truckloads of antibiotic resistance on farmland. Those bacteria can share their resistance with other bacteria that happen to be on crops and in downstream aquatic ecosystems—bacteria that could cause illness, Chénier says. “This is a time bomb.