The headlines say “Antibiotics-free meat”. Yeah, good luck with that

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Good news for PR – bad news for the 5 billion of us who could go hungry

It’s a nice idea, but “antibiotics-free” is not going to happen any time soon.

Yeah sure, the farmers are going to stop adding antibiotics to feedstuffs to fatten animals up ready for market.

To stop antibiotics altogether unless animals are sick – which they are a lot of the time because of the way they’re housed.

Ever guessed what it’s like to be living on one of those mass produced factory farms?

OK, so no antibiotics to be added to food stuffs – because as the story says, these antibiotics are entering our bodies, they’re already in the food chain.

Bigger than superbugs

Uh huh.

And the panic is that higher volumes of these antibiotics lead to more and superbugs – infections that attack our bodies and can’t be treated by our wonder drugs. 50,000 deaths a year in the UK and US alone, and climbing .

Good luck with that too – because when we open our eyes wider, that’s the least of our worries.

Antibiotics fatten up animals, right? And they’re already entering our bodies as part of the food chain. Which means antibiotics fatten US up too.

And they’re working – just look at our national obesity figures. Two-thirds of all adults are already overweight or obese.  Well on the way to diabetes, cancer, heart disease and others – a combined total of 30 million deaths and climbing.

Yeah, so antibiotics-free meat will stop all that, right?

We wish.

In the poo and staying there

Because we’re more deeply in the poo than we realise.

See, the farmers might stop ADDING antibiotics to the feedstuffs they give their animals. But antibiotics are ALREADY in there anyway – in the actual plant material itself, the soya, the maize meal, the grass, the whatever.

Some of it is from antibiotics administered directly to PLANTS. Just like animals, plants respond to antibiotic growth boosting.

Or sometimes antibiotics are there to combat blight, mould and other plant ailments. With growth boost as a side bet.

Most of all though, plants ingest antibiotics from animal poo – the same stuff that is collected and returned to enrich the soil as manure. Or already in the ground from previous fertilising and absorbed through the roots. And even in the ground water, seeping through to springs and rivers.

And the water

That glass of water from the Thames? The Centre for Ecology & Hydrology at Wallingford measured trimethoprim, oxytetracycline, ciprofloxacin, azithromycin, cefotaxime, doxycycline, sulfamethoxazole, erythromycin, clarithromycin, ofloxacin, norfloxacin across 21 locations of the river’s catchment area.

We’re not talking small amounts either. Most animals poo out 80-90% of the nutrients they consume, Nature’s way of providing enrichment to so many living things. Which means they poo out 80-90% of the antibiotics they consume too.

And with world use of antibiotics already topping 240,000 tonnes a year and set to climb nearly 70% by 2035, that means 192,000 tonnes every year going into the ground – hefty enough to fatten 7½ billion human beings across the planet, as well as the 19 billion chickens, 1.4 billion cattle and 1 billion sheep and pigs that feed us.

Yeah, so antibiotics-free meat is not so free after all. The same animals not getting antibiotics in their feed still get a hefty dose with every mouthful, even if they’re just chewing grass.

No fix in sight

So why don’t whoever the authorities are pull the plug on antibiotics altogether?

Good question. Not a vote-catcher though.

Thanks to antibiotics, world food production zoomed from enough to support 2½ billion people 50 years ago to 7½ billion now. Pull the plug and 5 billion of us are suddenly going to go hungry.

World famine, what politician wants that?

Antibiotics-free?

If only.

Picture Copyright: lightwave / 123RF Stock Photo