They already know we’re in trouble.
Everybody from England’s Chief Medical Officer on down is seriously worried about antibiotics.
Antimicrobial resistance – just for starters
Serious, yes, because she’s talking about antimicrobial resistance (AMR). One by one, savvy bacteria have developed immunity to our miracle life-savers. Modern medicine is at the brink of a new Dark Age. No more heart transplants, hip replacements, or even C-section births.
So doctors are scared, but not poop scared.
But they should be.
Because all of them – the government, Public Health England, the General Medical Council, the NHS, everybody – they’re already in deep poo, and don’t even know it.
Sure AMR is serious. But alongside other concerns with antibiotics, it’s only the beginning.
The age of the fatties
Dame Sally puts that on a par with terrorism too – though it’s actually worse. Obesity that leads to diabetes, heart disease and cancer – around 30 million deaths and accelerating like crazy.
Yes, fuelled by sugary drinks, junk food and a couch potato lifestyle. But not triggered by them.
Our current slo-mo tsunami of accelerating obesity is from antibiotics in the FOOD we eat. Micro-doses in everything we put in our mouths – meat, vegetables, milk, water.
Down on the (factory) farm
Because micro-doses of antibiotics are exactly what farmers feed their animals to bulk them up and make them grow quicker. To obese-ify them.
They’re not supposed to, of course. Overuse of antibiotics by agriculture is a major cause of antibiotic resistance. And farmers use 240,000 tons of them worldwide every year.
Which is why antibiotic growth promoters are banned in the UK and EU – to prevent AMR from getting worse.
And we can thank antibiotics for that too.
At the end of World War II there were only 2½ billion of us on this planet. Today we are 7½ billion. Antibiotics lowered the death rate so more of us could survive. No longer just the fittest – but also the weak, those rescued from disease and infection. Another 5 billion of us.
Which is why farmers NEED antibiotics. To produce enough food to sustain us in such numbers. Except the planet hasn’t got any bigger, there’s no new land they can use for farming. So the only way to go is industrial.
Enter the CAFO – Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations or factory farms. Thousands of animals, concentrated in every available space. So many of them on top of each other that antibiotics are essential for keeping them alive.
Antibiotics not as growth promoters, note – that’s illegal. Strictly therapeutic. Ultra necessary in the close and unsanitary slum conditions these poor animals have to live in.
The effect is the same though. Antibiotics fed to animals every day in regular doses. All above board and within the law. With exactly the same obese-ifying effect.
So we eat them and we get fat too – from the residual antibiotics in their bodies?
You got it.
Although actually, farmers are supposed to withdraw antibiotics from feedstuff up to a month or more before slaughter. And keep strict records that they’ve done it. To ensure no antibiotics get into our own food chain.
Except they can’t always do that, can they? Their animals might die.
All of which is before the REAL poo happens.
You see, it’s a fact of life that animals do not absorb everything they eat. Around 80% of it is excreted as waste. Which is how come manure has high nutritional value – it’s full of unused food.
So here we are – up to our necks in manure.
Because manure is used to grow crops of all kinds – including feedstuffs for livestock. So even though animals might not be dosed with antibiotics along with their food, they’re getting them anyway – from the grass, hay, maize, soya or whatever it is they’re being fed.
Better include fruit and vegetables too – and everything else. The entire food spectrum we get in our local supermarket.
So that whatever we eat contains antibiotics. In exactly the micro-doses needed to obese-ify us like the animals – whose metabolisms are nearly the same as ours anyway.
Plus of course, manure leaches into the soil and into the water table – eventually into our streams and rivers. Swig a glass of water out of the Thames and it’s also full of antibiotics.
Oh, you want to get rid of the antibiotics before you eat them? Aside from any cooking you might do, you have to boil everything for at least 30 – 60 minutes. Though what your cauliflower cheese will taste like after an hour on the gas flat-out is anybody’s guess.
All of which means that our obesity epidemic is going to snowball – not go away. And that’s on top of the AMR superbug casualties we’re already taking. Millions of us face a long slow death thanks to illnesses brought on by antibiotics.
Dark Ages 2.0
OK, so suppose we get tough and ban antibiotics altogether?
Straight away we get Dame Sally’s Dark Ages. Forget to wash your hands and you could die from a paper cut.
But how are farmers going to sustain enough production to feed 7½ billion people without the power boost of antibiotics? No more factory farms, no more mass production.
Looks like medics will have to add malnutrition and starvation to the presenting symptoms they have to deal with.
Up to their necks in the brown stuff.
So when Dame Sally says wash your hands, we’d all better listen. Our only defence with antibiotics gone.
Soap and water. More than at any time ever in our history, our lives depend on it.
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