Transcript: Past the Age of Miracles: Facing a Post-Antibiotic Age
Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.
In a keynote address last year, the Director-General of the World Health Organization warned that we may be facing a future in which many of our miracle drugs no longer work. “A post-antibiotic era means, in effect, an end to modern medicine as we know it,” she said. “Things as common as strep throat or a child’s scratched knee could once again kill.”
The Director-General’s prescription to avoid this catastrophe included a global call to “[r]estrict the use of antibiotics in food production to therapeutic purposes.” In other words, only use antibiotics in agriculture to treat sick animals. In the United States, meat producers feed literally millions of pounds of antibiotics to farm animals who aren’t sick—just to promote growth, or prevent disease, in the often-cramped, stressful, unhygienic conditions in industrial animal agriculture. The FDA estimates that 80% of the antimicrobial drugs sold in the U.S. every year now go to the meat industry.
The discoverer of penicillin warned us back in the 40s that misuse could lead to resistance, but the meat industry didn’t listen, and started feeding drugs like penicillin to chickens by the ton. The Food and Drug Administration finally wised up to the threat in 1977, and proposed stopping the feeding of penicillin and tetracycline to farm animals. That was 36 years ago.
“Since then, the combined political power of the factory farming and pharmaceutical industries has effectively thwarted any legislative or regulatory action, and this stranglehold shows no sign of breaking. We realized this reckless practice was a public health threat decades ago, and yet, what’s been done about it?
“Present [farm animal] production is concentrated in high-volume, crowded, stressful environments, made possible in part by the routine use of antibacterial [drugs] in [the] feed,” the U.S. Congressional Office of Technology Assessment wrote, as far back as 1979. “Thus the current dependency on low-level use of antibiotics to increase or maintain production, while of immediate benefit, also could be the Achilles’ heel of present production methods.”
Industrial operations use antibiotics as a crutch to compensate for the squalid conditions that now characterize much of modern agribusiness. The unnatural crowding of animals and their waste creates such a strain on the animals’ immune systems that normal body processes like growth may be impaired. That’s why a constant influx of antibiotics is thought to accelerate weight gain by reducing the infectious load. The problem is that “[e]ach animal feeding on an antibiotic becomes a ‘factory’ for the production and subsequent dispersion of antibiotic-resistant bacteria”—offering a whole new meaning to the term “factory farm.”
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