Antibiotics – Sometimes Trying to Kill Small Things Causes Big Problems
When large fast food restaurant chains like McDonald’s and Chic-Fil-A begin transitioning to antibiotic-free chicken, promising 100% antibiotic-free at all US locations by 2019, it means one of two things:
Sales gimmick (and growing niche sector).
There’s a big problem on the horizon, and to avoid longer-term losses, they’re investing in avoiding said big problem (technically this should be 1b, as it still directly relates to sales and performance, but let’s give them the benefit of a doubt for the time being and talk about the big problem).
TIME recently released an article detailing the antibiotic-resistant bacteria that has come about due (at least partially) to the overuse of antibiotics in animals raised for food production, having discovered that “the DNA from antibiotic-resistant bacteria found in American cattle yards has become airborne, creating a new pathway by which such bacteria can spread to humans and hinder treatment of life-threatening infections.” This comes at the heels of a topic that’s regularly raised in the United States: The improper and general overuse of antibiotics by both consumers and farmers, now culminates in not-so-unexpected results. According to the researchers interviewed, “they found the air downwind of the yards contained antibiotics, bacteria, and a ‘significantly greater’ number of microbial communities containing antibiotic-resistant genes.” This isn’t particularly surprising. Here’s what’s surprising, albeit logical: “Because antibodies are poorly absorbed by cows they are released into the environment through excretion. Once in the environment, bacteria will undergo natural selection and genes that have acquired natural immunities will survive.”
Long story short: Cow dung decomposes and the bacteria laced with antibiotic-resistant genes are free to go wherever, and survive more adequately thanks to their time spent in the rather inviting feeding ground of the cattle waste.
What’s the big deal? Well, aside from the fact that this bacteria is now airborne, “antibiotic-resistant bacterial DNA is ALREADY known to be transferable to humans if ingested via water or meat.” This means that communities are now dependent upon their local food/water infrastructure for safety against these dangerous pathogens. For example, those living in an area with barely-adequate drinking water have compounded the probability of their exposure and the subsequently-inevitable spread of these microorganisms. What’s also unfortunate in all this is that vegetarians, vegans and even just the health-conscious in general, having had no hand in this and avoided antibiotic-laden meat, are still susceptible to exposure due to their local infrastructure coupled with the bacteria’s new genetic capabilities.
This isn’t the end of the world by any stretch, as much as it continues to prod at the recurring theme of veg-blogging: Large-scale meat consumption (and the processes that support it) as it stands isn’t sustainable on a global scale.
Image source: http://www.rodalenews.com/files/images/317171.jpg