And we mean the biggest iceberg ever.
Because big though the issue of antibiotics resistance is, what’s coming is far worse.
And all we’re doing right now is rearranging the deckchairs before we smash into that iceberg full speed with our eyes wide open.
We need a Plan B, PDQ.
You see, disaster though it is, antibiotics resistance – or antimicrobial resistance (AMR) as the professionals know it – is already a side issue. The collapse of modern medicine, yes. Maybe even the collapse of the world.
Lord Jim O’Neill, AMR Review chairman for the Prime Minister, sort of hinted at it in his official paper.
Mind you, he was using it to demand that future medical use of antibiotics be severely restricted – only made available once proving tests have been made to justify administering them.
Ah, but check out Page 5 of his Review – the section on Livestock Production. Note that yearly AGRICULTURAL use of antibiotics is estimated “from around 63,000 tonnes to over 240,000 tonnes.”
240,000 tonnes – do the math. That’s 240 billion milligrams – a 32 mg dose for every one of us 7½ billion people here on Earth, EVERY YEAR.
Small yes, a sub-therapeutic dose, but exactly what animals get in their feed to fatten them up for market – accelerate their growth to super-size, super-fast.
Uh huh. The animals are farmed for food – we eat them – the antibiotics in their systems are ingested into our own.
Which means two things.
- Our own bodies could already have resistance to some kinds of antibiotics from the food we eat.
- We have similar metabolisms, so in the same way that they get fat, we get fat too.
And we certainly do.
Bigger killers than superbugs
It’s already pretty obvious that two thirds of us adults are already overweight. Which puts us nicely in line for all the ailments that being fat and obese bring – type 2 diabetes, cancer, heart disease and a whole string of others. Slow killers that take 20 or 30 years to claim us. Beyond the radar for most people – including the doctors and politicians who currently shape our lives.
Against that, current deaths from antibiotics resistance total 700,000 worldwide – barely 2.3% of the big killers – though projected to rise as high as 10 million by 2050.
Right now, 43 TIMES MORE OF US are dying a slow death from being overweight than those who succumb to antibiotics resistant superbugs.
What about the animals?
But even that’s not the real threat, astronomic though those figures are.
Lord O’Neill and Co are worried about antibiotics resistance, right? About the possible TOTAL failure of antibiotics at some stage in the near future – AS THEY IMPACT HUMAN BEINGS.
But how about animals?
Worldwide right now there are 19 billion chickens, 1.4 billion cows, and around 1 billion each of sheep and pigs. Pretty well all of them raised on super-intensive factory farms – thousands crammed together in close, unhygienic conditions, kept alive by regular doses of antibiotics.
Must be hefty doses too, if it takes 240,000 tonnes a year to keep them going.
So what happens if antibiotics fail the animals too?
Well, living so close on top of each other, any illness is going to go through them faster than norovirus on a cruise ship. Except it probably won’t be norovirus, but something more deadly.
Remember bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) – the CJD version of it? Millions of cows were destroyed to keep the disease out of the food chain.
The gruesome fact is that they were going to die anyway. Exactly the same as intensively farmed livestock around the world will do if a superbug takes hold – a runaway wildfire of animal deaths everywhere.
We’re going to get hungry
Which means overnight, no food to eat.
No lunch or supper for 7½ billion people.
Well, not quite.
50 years ago, before antibiotics were shovelled into Daisy every day, world food production managed to support 2½ million people.
On the same land area – in fact, probably less from expanding cities and new towns springing up – antibiotics have pushed that to the 7½ billion we are now.
So at best 5 billion of us are going to go hungry – two thirds of the world population.
Replacement needed – urgent
So it’s not a question of controlling antibiotics, or running round looking for new ones. It’s time to dump them altogether. To start looking for replacements before a whole load of us die.
Time for our leaders to get serious. That iceberg is a lot bigger than it looks.
And it’s almost on top of us.
Picture Copyright: mihtiander / 123RF Stock Photo