Thursday, February 23, 2012

The rise of antibiotic resistance and the meat industry

This post was inspired by an interview with Maryn McKenna, published by Scientific America

I think that most parent are aware of the importance of being strict with the use of antibiotics. When you have started taking it or (more likely) giving it to your child then you have to continue giving the antibiotic for the period prescribed by your doctor, even if you or your child get well before that. Why? Because you want to make sure that you kill all the bacteria. You want to do this because otherwise a few hardy bacteria that survived the antibiotics will hang around and procreate until there is a whole army of bacteria that know how to survive this type of antibiotic. In other words, if you are unlucky you will end up with a whole army of the bacterial equivalent of "William Wallace" in Braveheart.

Lesson: Finish your prescription.

However, it turns out that people's misuse of antibiotics pales in comparison to the misuse within the meat industry. An astonishing 80% of the antibiotics sold in the US are used in animals. To make things even worse, these antibiotics are not primarily used (as you would think), for sick animals but rather they are given to healthy animals in small doses at regular intervals. Now if you are really really eager to get antibiotic resistant bacteria, this is the way to do it. Why, you may ask, is antibiotics given to healthy animals. The reason is that the animal reach its goal-weight a little bit faster. That is it!

What happens then? Well, as mentioned the bacteria in these animals learn to deal with the antibiotics and become resistant. When the animal is slaughtered these bacteria frequently end up all over the meat. Commonly resistant bacteria thrives in the meat storage facilities as well. What about the meat bought in the stores? About 25% of it has antibiotic resistant bacteria on it. Usually they die when you cook it but sometimes they survive and they are becoming a major health problem, throughout the world.

Other examples of this dangerous misuse of antibiotics include over the counter, non-prescription sales of antibiotics, and non-prescription sales of antibiotics online...

For another great blog post on this, with more details, visit:

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