Antibiotic resistance, the silent killer that's on the rise.
Updated: Apr 21
Antibiotic Resistance is one of the biggest threats to humanity right now, so what's causing this and why aren't we talking about it?
2020 will go down in history as the year COVID19 dominated world news. What if I told you that the next pandemic will likely be ten, even fifty times worse? We know it can happen - it’s happened before, and today more than ever, the odds are stacked against us. The reason? Antibiotic Resistance.
Antibiotics were first introduced in the 1940’s and have been used to save the lives of hundreds of millions of people, healing infections, aiding chemotherapy recovery, and all but irradiating post surgical sepsis. Antibiotic resistance on the other hand, is when the bacteria that cause infections become resistant to antibiotics, threatening us with the return of dark-age diseases.
In the 1300’s, history saw its worst ever disease outbreak killing 60% of European citizens and at least 50 million people worldwide. The so called Black Death was a bacterial disease caused by plague; a disease type that we can easily treat today. But for how much longer? The WHO is calling antibiotic resistance a global crisis and just as COVID-19 highlighted how underprepared we were for a pandemic of this scale, it’s also illustrated how weak the antibiotic supply chain is. Currently 97% of America’s antibiotics are manufactured in China - the first country to enforce a lockdown. This reduced exports dramatically, leaving America with a dangerously low drug supply. Despite COVID-19 being a virus and therefore unable to be treated with antibiotics, the pandemic itself is actually driving UP antibiotic use, as stringent medical practices all but enforce their use for anything fever or pneumonia related. A report published in 2016 shows that roughly one in three antibiotics are prescribed unnecessarily, consuming valuable resources, whilst increasing their resistance. Over prescribing isn’t the only problem. It’s not even the biggest problem. There’s a much bigger issue. It’s currently estimated that 80% of all of the antibiotics in the world are fed to animals in factory farms, when only 20% actually need the drug.
In so-called mega farms, millions of chickens are reared in close confinements, in highly unsanitary conditions. Disease here is inevitable so antibiotics are given to the animals daily in their food and water supply.
Cows now produce up to ten times more milk than they used to, but over-milking causes bacterial infections in their udders, which reduces their milk production. So cows too, get antibiotics in their food supply. And the same over-prescribing can be found for pigs, sheep, and even fish. We social distance to minimise the spread of deathly disease — animal agriculture systemically enforces the opposite.
The truth is, the conditions in which factory farmed animals are kept, are so horrific, that without antibiotics, the animals simply wouldn’t survive—99% of global American meat produce comes from factory farms, 95% in the UK.
While antibiotics might be essential to keep factory farm animals alive just long enough for them to reach slaughtering age, they also promote faster growth, and despite this being banned in some regions, heavier produce means heavier pay packets for farmers. The scales are unbalanced.
Leading global health experts have informed governments time and time again. ’Immediately stop all antibiotic use to promote animal growth’. If we fail the result would be catastrophic. The WHO, United Nations and countless other international agencies are in unison with their message - antibiotic resistance will kill 10million people per year by 2050 if we continue with our current practices.
Antibiotic resistance isn’t new. We learned early on that misusing the life saving drug can lead to bacteria becoming resistant in as little as two or three years, yet, animal agriculture is increasing its use. Over the next ten years, meat production in emerging markets will likely drive up animal antibiotic use by 67%. With every dose of antibiotics administered, antibiotic resistance grows stronger. So for the same reason we don’t take antibiotics every single day of our lives, animals shouldn’t either.
Over the next thirty years humans will kill over two trillion animals for human consumption. To put it into perspective, that’s more than five times the amount of stars in the milky way galaxy - without taking into account human population growth, which is expected to see factory farm production more than double in the same time period. Each one of these animals will receive antibiotics, to prevent a disease, that could been avoided altogether.
Animal Agriculture is the leading cause of Climate change, Deforestation, Emerging diseases and now Antibiotic Resistance.
But we can do something about it. Every meal presents us with an opportunity to put an end to an industry that is clearly broken. In this golden era of medical innovation, nobody should die from antibiotic resistance. Food, shouldn’t cost lives.