Antibiotic-Resistant Antics

Dear Reader,

Today we take a short break from our regularly-scheduled programming of discussing the slaughtering of relationships to discuss the slaughtering of animals who may or may not be in relationships. Today’s discussion specifically focuses on livestock animals, how they’re treated prior to slaughter, and the direct effects of that treatment on the human body. Therefore, whether you’re a concerned cow, or a human concerned with what’s in the cow you’re about to consume, this blog post is for you.

Humans who have experienced the need for antibiotics in the past can appreciate how powerfully and rapidly they target harmful bacteria and eliminate them. To maintain their effectiveness in humans, they need to be used to treat bacterial infections (as opposed to viral infections, against which they are powerless), and they need to be completed as prescribed, regardless of whether the patient feels better after just a few doses. Using less than the prescribed amount kills only the weakest bacteria. The strongest get to stick around and party. At the party, they’re going to have a few too many drinks, start flirting with other bacteria, and next thing you know they’re procreating, or in more scientific terms, passing on their antibiotic resistance to future generations. Through this promiscuous process the rebellious bacteria evolve new defenses that no longer respond to traditional antibiotic therapy. Given that bacteria can reproduce in as little as 20 minutes—-and don’t need to waste time with foreplay—-once set in motion this process can evolve impressive numbers of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Vigilant use of antibiotics in humans, however, is no longer sufficient to eliminate the propagation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. If you’re a livestock animal (which happens to be my blog’s biggest fan base), and you’re not living on a socially-responsible, sustainable farm, you might be interested to know that your farmer might be spiking your feed with a hearty helping of penicillin.

“But why would my farmer do that?” you ask. “I’m as healthy as a horse! I don’t want to eat penicillin unless I have a bacterial infection!”

Because antibiotics are regularly fed to perfectly healthy livestock—-like you—-to promote negligibly faster growth and to compensate for increasingly unsanitary conditions in highly crowded farms. In fact a 2001 Union of Concerned Scientists study estimated that 70% of antibiotics in the U.S. are used as additives in the feed of pigs, poultry, and beef cattle.

Why does this concern humans who eat meat? Unless your meat comes exclusively from sustainable farms that practice humane and sanitary conditions for livestock, use vegetarian feed, and limit the use of antibiotics to those animals requiring antibiotic therapy, you’re susceptible to antibiotic-resistant bacteria coming your way courtesy of the meat that you eat. Not only are your meat products likely to contain antibiotic residues, but antibiotic-resistant bacteria can be transmitted to you via the consumption of contaminated undercooked meat. And when farms are unable to properly manage the massive quantities of manure they produce, soil and groundwater can also become contaminated through improper handling and disposal of waste, exposing people who swim or fish in lakes or rivers, or drink untreated water, to this bacteria.

It should also be noted that the routine feeding of antibiotics to livestock animals was estimated in a 1999 National Academy of Sciences report to save only $5-10 in meat prices per person annually, a price offset considerably by the cost of treating antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections, which runs at approximately $4 billion per year.

As for the concerned livestock out there, you’re probably wondering at this point, as you pack your belongings into the getaway tractor to head for greener pastures, exactly where you should be heading to protect yourself and the humans who eat you. At my earliest convenience, I will be providing you with some information regarding SPOs (smart pasture operations) that will serve as your map of the farms to which you may want to consider migrating. In the meantime, drive away from the smell of manure. Good luck!

—-Troi out

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