Mercury Rising 鳯女

Politics, life, and other things that matter

Oregano As A Replacement For Antibiotics? Livestock Farmers Are Trying It

Posted by Phoenix Woman on December 26, 2012

This sounds interesting:

The smell of oregano wafting from Scott Sechler’s office is so strong that anyone visiting Bell & Evans these days could be forgiven for wondering whether Mr. Sechler has forsaken the production of chicken and gone into pizza.


Off and on over the last three years or so, his chickens have been eating a specially milled diet laced with oregano oil and a touch of cinnamon. Mr. Sechler swears by the concoction as a way to fight off bacterial diseases that plague meat and poultry producers without resorting to antibiotics, which some experts say can be detrimental to the humans who eat the meat. Products at Bell & Evans, based in this town about 30 miles east of Harrisburg, have long been free of antibiotics, contributing to the company’s financial success as consumers have demanded purer foods.

But Mr. Sechler said that nothing he had used as a substitute in the past worked as well as oregano oil.

There are skeptics, a notable one being Scott Gavura. But a few studies exist (such as this one and this one) that indicate that oregano may well have actual medicinal uses.

UPDATE: Gavura’s post was from May of 2011, and the materials he cites are of course from before 2011, the latest one being a 2010 review of studies from past years. This October 2011 study indicates that 3% oregano oil helps to fight against Staphlococcus aureus infections. To my mind this would fit in with the results of a 2001 study that seems to indicate that oregano oil as extracted from the plant works better at fighting bacteria than does carvacrol alone, which is thought to be the chief antibacterial agent in oregano oil. The other chemicals in oregano oil apparently possess antibacterial properties that work with carvacrol’s to reduce bacteria in the test subjects.


4 Responses to “Oregano As A Replacement For Antibiotics? Livestock Farmers Are Trying It”

  1. Stormcrow said

    A couple of caveats.

    First; since I’ve seen far too many “alternative” medicines proven bogus lately, the standard I’m using for validation these days is quite a bit tougher than it was, say, 5 years ago.

    Second. For the sake of argument, suppose that the claim is right on target. Then, what we’re talking about is a “natural” antibiotic. Specifically, “natural” as in, it’s been in use in the wild for multiple megayears.

    The same thing is true of “traditional” antibiotics of the sort Fleming stumbled upon in 1928.

    These antibiotics are part of a war that’s been going on in the soil for time out of mind. The bacteria they target have been under selective pressure from these agents for exactly as long as molds have been secreting them.

    The result, of course, was antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Thousands of years before humans even knew what bacteria were.

    All it took to go from that, to things like MRSA, was horizontal genetic transfer, which happens all the time, and the selective pressure wide scale use of these agents imposed.

    If you doubt that assertion about horizontal genetic transfer happening all the time, spend some quality time over at Ed Yong’s blog. That includes the human genome too, BTW; about 8% of it is viral in origin. Yeah, it blew my mind, too.

    So here’s my next question: what’s to prevent the same sort of thing happening with oregano oil? If we start using it the way we use “traditional” antibiotics today, we massively increase the selective pressure on livestock bacteria from this specific agent.

    If the resistance genes are out there, this is their big chance to get into as wide a variety of bugs as possible.

    • I understand your point, but if you take it to its logical extreme, we should never clean our pens and slaughterhouses and be content with extremely high rates of things like cholera because otherwise all we’re doing is getting rid of the weaker pathogens.

      • Stormcrow said

        I guess I wasn’t clear; that’s not the point I was trying to make.

        I’m not saying we should not follow this up, and use it if the claims you cited turn out to be valid.

        What I am saying, is that we can expect to see resistant bugs fairly soon, if the genes for resistance have already evolved. And it’s reasonable to expect that for something like oregano oil, they may have.

        Whenever we deal with bugs, we’re actually dealing with (i) a problem that’s basically ecological, (ii) organisms which have faster rates of adaptation then we’re used to, and which also have (iii) means of acquiring pre-existing resistance genes which are significantly faster than mere mutation.

        So we should expect that effectiveness of any countermeasure which is already “in use” in the natural world will decay over time. Perhaps quite quickly. That depends on luck, since we probably don’t yet know much about the ecological context of oregano oil.

        In other words, don’t expect too much from this. In another few decades, we’ll probably be compelled to revisit the problem and find a different solution. That’s my point.

        Just got finished with several books which taught me well and truly that contagious diseases are ecological problems just as much as they are “public health” problems, with all the gawdawful complications that implies.

      • Stormcrow said

        Another way of putting it, is this:

        We got blindsided by antibiotic resistant bacteria because we didn’t consider the probable consequences when we started using them widely.

        Turns out the consequences were absolutely inevitable, because the resistance genes already existed.

        But chocolate jesus, when Fleming stumbled across penicillin, we didn’t even know how to read the genetic code, let alone what it meant. And we barely even knew what viruses were.

        We didn’t even know influenza was caused by a virus, until after Fleming had published. Best available theory was that it was caused by a bacterium, until 1931!

        In other words, the entire early history of antibiotic therapy played out in a state of almost total ignorance of the surrounding evolutionary and ecological issues.

        Next time we do this, we ought to understand, up-front, that what we’re doing is isn’t going to be effective forever.

        We can expect genetic pushback, driven by selective pressure, and it may happen faster than the normal mutation process alone would permit.

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