Antibiotics Armageddon: as deadly as the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs – and already on the way

Dinosaur Armageddon
The end of the world as we know it? Except it won’t be quick and sudden – get ready for a long and painful slide

Better believe it, we’re going the way of the dinosaurs.

Billions of us wiped out.

Gone.

And it’s already happening.

Except in slo-mo, not in an exploding fireball instant.

Ten, twenty years and more. No rush. Not taken out in a split-second asteroid flash.

But shoving us towards extinction just as surely as the dinosaurs.

Pushed by antibiotics.

Killer wonder-drugs

Yes, the very same wonder-drugs we’ve come to rely on as life-savers. Miracle rescue medicines to save us from every infection – so universally prescribed, we chomp them like sweets.

Yet even now doctors are worried these drugs are being overwhelmed by antimicrobial resistance. Mutating bacteria, immune to anything we throw at them.

Increasingly, our miracle antibiotics don’t work. And the day is fast approaching when none of them will.

Devastating, yes. But that’s not the direction the fireball is coming from.

And we cannot escape because it’s in every mouthful of the food we eat – every swallow of the liquids we drink.

No, not from any deadly bacteria – even though our defence is weakening against them.

It’s our own bacteria-killers that are doing the job. The ones the bugs are immune to. Those very same antibiotics that are supposed to protect us.

All you can eat and more

You see, antibiotics aren’t just prescribed as medicines. Beyond miracle germ killers, they’re miracle growth boosters too. Administered to animals and plants to make them, grow bigger, fatter, faster. 240,000 tons of them shovelled in every year.

And that’s where the Armageddon comes in. Accelerated by our own dinosaur thinking.

And our own numbers.

Since antibiotics were first started as growth boosters, the world’s population has multiplied three times over. From 2½ billion in the 1950s to 7½ billion today.

And without antibiotics to boost growth for food production, we wouldn’t be able to exist.

There’s antibiotics in feedstuff for beef cattle, pigs, sheep, poultry, fish – you name it. And they’re fed to plants to improve yield – cereals, grain crops, fruit and vegetables. Either directly as injections or additives. Or indirectly, from the manure of the animals fed antibiotics in the first place.

Which means antibiotics are in the soil too, leached in from the manure – down into the water table and out into our streams and rivers. Turn on your tap for a glass of water  and there’s traces of antibiotics right there.

Big, like the dinosaurs we are becoming

Result, every mouthful, every swallow, we  are ingesting more of the most efficient growth booster the world has ever known. And like the animals, we too grow bigger, fatter, faster. Not helped by too little exercise, a couch potato lifestyle and an increasing appetite for more and more food.

Look around and the proof is everywhere. Two thirds of adults are already overweight or obese – and one third of our kids. And we’re going to keep getting bigger – with everything that obesity brings: diabetes, cancer, heart disease – unless we get off antibiotics.

OK, but that means getting the animals off too. Which we can’t do because modern intensive farming systems are so intensified that regular antibiotics are necessary just to keep them alive.

Which itself is a Catch 22 – because just as antibiotics stop working against germs in humans, they stop working against germs in animals too. Like us, they are no longer protected.

But they have to be fed antibiotics anyway or they won’t grow fast enough and big enough to sustain the food supply.

Back to the Dark Ages

So we’re damned if we do, and damned if we don’t. Both us and the animals.

The antibiotics don’t kill germs anymore, so we’re more at risk than ever. And the animals we eat are at risk too. Less and less of them are going to survive, which means less and less for us to eat.

Like it or not, we’re going back to how it was before antibiotics ever existed.

Which means no growth boosters in the food chain – and only enough animals to support 2½ billion people.

Uh huh. A shortfall of 5 billion.

So if we don’t succumb to the slow onset of diabetes, cancer, heart disease and all the other dangers of serious obesity, we’re going to go hungry.

5 billion people wiped out at a stroke. Just like the dinosaurs. And every bit as devastating as our poor Earth getting hit by a 1 kilometre sized piece of rock out of the blue.

Oops.

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Would you risk your whole company for a few days of sick leave?

Worried Manager
It’s not having no staff you have to worry about, it’s having no company at all

Sick leave is sick leave, right?

People taking chances, skiving days off. Like, unless they’re in hospital, it’s all stitch up, yeah?

Productivity down the tubes because somebody has a sore toe.

Not an issue, except for staff discipline.

Show them you’re soft and they’ll take you for everything. All it needs is a little tightening up.

As if.

Beyond sick leave

Yes, sick leave is an issue. But small in the great scheme of things. A blip alongside the multi-million pound deals where the real action is.

Small, huh?

Try microscopic.

The size that germs are when they take you down. You, or any of your staff – we’re all human. When infection strikes, we’re all of us out of commission – real pain, real fever, real life threat if it gets out of hand.

Which is why sick leave.

Time out to get better. Quarantine to avoid taking other staff down too.

Side issue, yes – except it’s human assets that are at hazard. Productive only when the body is working well. Dodgy, dead risky, or downright dangerous when not 100%.

Yes, so somebody slopes off a day extra after a cold or flu. A small price against having the whole office out with the same thing. No hands when they’re most needed, so things start looking iffy.

“Nice take on this!” – Washington Post

Or riskier still, how about they DON’T take time off? Or not all the time they’re supposed to. So they’re working at half power, unwell at work, dragging everybody down with them. Screwing up left, right and centre because their minds are wet putty.

Paying that never stops

Costa Brava con job? Get ready for Costa Plenty.

Like how about the airline captain who lifts off for a long-haul flight with tummy cramps? £500 million worth of Airbus A380, 360 passengers – and lawyers lined up to infinity and beyond if anything goes wrong.

And if the worst happens, who’s going to fly with that airline ever again? What happens to their licence?  Is there any way back from such negative PR?

Can’t happen in your business?

Hey, when sick leave issues go pear-shaped, nobody is immune.

Like Mex-food restaurant chain, Chipotle. Staff recalled from sick leave early – still contagious. 133 customers down with food poisoning, share price drops 12%. And this on top off previous health incidents – only a bumpy ride back.

You see, sick leave itself is easy. Expensive, yes – business gurus PwC put yearly UK sick leave costs at £29 billion.

The hard part is the knock-ons. An average ten times normal sick leave cost for regular Tom, Dick and Harriets who struggle back to their desks as martyrs – an eye-watering £290 billion.

Damage control

And then there’s the damage control. What do those sick staff do when they’re not functioning and out of their heads, basically sitting there trying to stay alive? What can they cost with their mistakes and falling around? Double their salary? Triple? Check out the hairy possible Germonomics.

The mind boggles.

All of which says, don’t catch a cold. Treat sick leave seriously. Over-indulge if you have to. A few extra days off is chicken-feed alongside crashing the whole company.

Besides, what better motivation can you have for staff? You show you care and you’re thinking about them. Your ace in the hole. They might not volunteer the extra mile – but they’re sure to be OK with giving it, if you ask.

Which means profits are safe, staff are safe, everybody’s happy.

Can’t do better than that.

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