The end of effective antibiotics?

AntibioticsThis is serious. This could cost you your life! What if the medication your doctor gave you for an infection didn’t work? What if the second antibiotic didn’t work either? Blame the beef industry. According to a new study, sponsored by consumer and environmental groups, 23 out of 25 U.S. burger chains, including McDonald’s and Burger King, were found serving beef raised with the routine use of antibiotics.

Most of antibiotics sold in the U.S. are fed to farm animals not people. In fact, 70% of medically important antibiotics sold in the U.S. go to food producing animals, and 43% of that goes to the beef industry. The result is that each year in the U.S., at least 2 million people are infected with antibiotic resistant bacteria, and at least 23,000 people die as a result.

Here’s how it happens. Farmers routinely give cows antibiotics, often in their daily feed, to help them survive very harsh and unhealthy conditions on factory farms. The problems is that these antibiotics kill off only the susceptible bacteria, allowing resistant bacteria to take over. If a farm worker then comes in contact with the bacteria or gets infected with it, they will carry it into the wider community. Slaughterhouse workers can spread the resistant bacteria as well. Undercooked meat can also harbor these bacteria.

If you get infected with such bacteria, the antibiotic the doctor gives you might not work because the bacteria is already resistant to it. Other antibiotics may not work either. This is happening more and more frequently. Once bacteria are resistant to antibiotics, that means the ability of doctors to treat the infection becomes extremely limited, and that’s really scary.  It means that infections that were once really easily and commonly treated could actually now be fatal, and common medical procedures may no longer be possible because of the risk of infection without reliable antibiotics.

While some organizations are pushing for beef farmers to stop using antibiotics, they are finding this difficult to do while maintaining the intensive farming methods they currently use. However, this problem could be solved by many more people following a plant-based diet. Then there wouldn’t be a need for so many beef cattle to be raised intensively and fed antibiotics.  Avoiding meat would also be much healthier for us and much kinder for the animals, so everyone would win.