Farm to Lab Table
Credit: Michael Milli
CLF-Lerner Fellow Patrick Baron puts local poultry meat to the test.
Proving to policymakers that not all poultry is created equal propels Patrick Baron—fourth-year PhD candidate in Environmental Health Sciences—to the lab bench.
The Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) at the Bloomberg School is funding Baron’s pioneering investigation into how small-scale poultry farming may contribute to different outcomes for antibiotic resistance in the food system, compared to industrial-scale poultry producers.
“The two food supply chains function differently at every step, which suggests they ultimately sell very different products and may impact antibiotic resistance on different levels,” Baron says. “Problem is, there’s no research on the small-scale for the Maryland Department of Agriculture to refer to.”
The Baltimore native aims to create the first report that could aid the state in updating and re-evaluating regulations and policy to enhance food safety in the direct-to-consumer supply chain.
He has been perusing Maryland farmers markets, farm stands and other direct-to-consumer retail locations to buy local poultry products for his research. In the lab, Baron cultures any Staph aureus and Salmonella on the meat and exposes the bacteria to a wide variety of antibiotics. To the extent that the bacteria withstand the blitz, they are antibiotic resistant.
The prevalence of foodborne pathogens observed on the local meat and the antibiotic-resistance patterns “will be new data to help researchers better understand the epidemiology of antibiotic resistance in the U.S. food system,” he explains.
Baron is one of 15 students awarded the CLF-Lerner Fellowship for the 2014–2015 academic year. He has received this financial support four years in a row, since 2011, after he completed his MSPH in Occupational and Environmental Health at the School.
“I’ve really appreciated the holistic and collaborative spirit toward public health at the Center, and the independence I’ve had while working here,” says Baron, who is advised by Christopher D. Heaney, PhD, director of the Johns Hopkins Environmental Health Microbiology and Immunology Laboratory.
“The CLF has provided an incredibly supportive environment for myself and my work," says Baron. "The fellowship has been integral to the success of this project.”