Antibiotic resistance, Big Pharma, and a whole lot of cheap meat

antibios by sheep purpleEngland’s Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, has warned that antibiotic resistance poses an ‘apocalyptic’ threat. According to Davies, minor surgery could routinely lead to fatal infections within twenty years if resistance continues to grow at the present rate.

The Independent is right to focus on the errors of our reliance on Big Pharma to protect the public good. Davies has suggested that the free market won’t solve this problem by itself, and that public-private co-operation, or even fully-publicly-funded initiatives, may be necessary to develop enough new antibiotics in time.

It’s still bugging me that so little is being said about the major role that irresponsible meat farming practices have played in this problem. According to Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals (New York; London, 2009), two of the only three known antibiotics that can successfully combat UTIs are on the point of being unusable for medical purposes, thanks to their obscene overuse in poultry farming. To put that in perspective, UTIs will affect one in four people, and they can lead to infertility or death if untreated. If they seem trivial, that’s only because we’re able to cure them. With antibiotics. For now.

By all means we should call out Big Pharma on this. But we need to consider the hidden costs of all the cheap, factory-farmed meat we eat, as well.

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