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In April this year, the World Health Organisation, a global public health agency operating under the UN, issued a warning to the world about the future of antibiotics.

The details of the statement were alarming to say the least. In essence, what it says is –  our over-use of antibiotics needs to be re-evaluated because of something called antimicrobial resistance – a phenomena occurring in disease-causing bacteria whereby exposure to antibiotics allows them to adapt and develop defences against the antibiotic, rendering it ineffective.

Antimicrobial resistance is currently being observed in strains of Tuberculosis and other bacteria that cause common infections like pneumonia and UTIs.

The cause for alarm is that, currently, the world has no alternative to antibiotic treatment. Like basic hygiene and sanitation, antibiotics are a foundation of civilisation, and unfortunately they are being cheapened by flippant over-use. The WHO’s statement explains that gradual resistance is a natural occurrence, but some human actions accelerate its emergence and spread; 

“The inappropriate use of antimicrobial drugs, including in animal husbandry, favours the emergence and selection of resistant strains…”

Antibiotics have been systematically used in industrial farming since the middle of last century. The often cramped living conditions and inadequate waste run-off in factory farming means that the animals are prone to injury – contracting infections and spreading diseases throughout their cohort. To combat this they are administered antibiotics (commonly in their feed).  The drugs are also used ‘non-therapeutically’ as a growth stimulant.

Drug-resistant strains of bacteria make their way from these animals to humans by way of improperly cooked meat or on vegetables where manure has been used as a fertilizer.

With free-range, grass-fed and organic animal husbandry practices – the approach is different. With diets and living conditions that much more closely resemble the wild, immunity is naturally stronger and the risk of infection is comparatively minuscule – thus the need for medicines of any kind (let alone preventative dosing) is drastically reduced. By supporting practices like these and boycotting those that misuse valuable medicines we’ll be healthier and the effectiveness of our antibiotics will be prolonged.

Thanks to staunch consumer demand in recent years for antibiotic and growth hormone-free meats the tide is slowly turning. Regulations are tightening and more producers are phasing out the use of non-therapeutic drugs. Now is an important and vital time to be showing our support for those pockets of the industry that champion drug-free farming.

 

Further reading:

World Health Organisation: Antimicrobial Resistance

Antibiotics and the Meat Industry At a Glance

Antibiotic use in livestock

 

Image courtesy of The International Business Times.