Superbug factories: Industrial meat and dairy farms could be the death of us all
No matter if you eat a 5 pounds of meat per day or are a strict vegan, intensive livestock farming is putting your life at risk. This is due to the routine and preemptive use of large amounts of antibiotics on factory farms, which contributes to the evolution resistant strains of bacteria like MSRA. In the US, MSRA is believed to be killing more people than AIDS.
For years the medical profession has come under criticism for overprescribing antibiotics or doling them out unnecessarily. ERs are notoriously overburdened by patients demanding antibiotics for the treatment of illnesses that may not be caused by bacteria, but by viruses. Since viral and bacterial infections often display similar symptoms, doctors tend to “play it safe” and give out antibiotics. This overuse of antibiotics has contributed to the rise of resistant “superbugs”.
Read an ER doctor’s take on that situation in Slate Magazine.
But this is nothing compared to what is going on in factory farms in the US, Latin America and Asia, where livestock are routinely given antibiotics every single day of the year, mixed in with their feed.
On industrialized meat, dairy and egg farms, animals live in conditions in which disease-causing viruses and bacteria spread rapidly between both animals and farm workers. Nightmarish pig factories are the most blatant and unnatural example of not only cruelty, but of how industrial livestock farms are incubators for dangerous diseases.
You can see how this process makes bacteria stronger and tougher – and at work on humans – in a startling study by Professor Barry Levy in the New England Journal of Medicine. His team went to a chicken farm where antibiotics had not been used before, and started to put the antibiotic tetracycline into their feed. Before the start of the experiment, there was no tetracycline-resistant bacteria on the farm. Within two weeks, 90 per cent of the chickens were excreting tetracycline-resistant organisms. Even more strikingly, half of all the humans living on the farm were by then excreting tetracycline-resistant bacteria too.
–Johann Hari in the Independent
The reason, of course, is the big profits factory farms make. And as shortsighted as it may seem, governments are not doing enough to regulate the situation. While the EU countries have far better rules than the US (the EU has banned certain antibiotics on farms), the use of cephalosporin antibiotics has risen 4-fold on UK farms under the past 10 years.
While Britons are showing they do not want American style industrial farms – a public campaign recently stopped plans for a mega-dairy in Lincolnshire – money often speaks louder than public will.
As with climate change, this is an issue which affects us all, whether we contribute to it or not. It is therefore not enough to change your diet or lifestyle. As long as antibiotics are being overused, superbugs will continue to evolve at a faster rate. Iy is a problem that requires strong political will.
Read more in Johann Hari’s opinion piece for the Independent, entitled “Cheap meat, MRSA and deadly greed”.