Only a total European ban on the use of antibiotics in livestock farming and a very sparing use of antibiotics in humans can prevent us from being ravaged by an epidemic of resistant bacteria.
An end to bacterial infectious diseases
It's hard to imagine, but until about seventy years ago, people died en masse from bacterial infections. In fact, more people died in battles from wound infections and other diseases than from weapons.
A groundbreaking discovery revealed a substance that killed bacteria without side effects on most people (some have penicillin allergies). Formerly deadly infections could be treated with a series of injections of penicillin be healed. Penicillin was the first of a series of antibiotics. Chloramphenicol, ampicillin, tetracyclines and the like were soon developed. Bacterial infectious diseases, which claimed millions of victims, seemed a thing of the past. Never again would people die from diseases such as pneumonia or cholera. Cattle farmers too eagerly and deeply reach into the candy box with medicines. Without all those nasty infections, animals grow much faster and can produce meat and milk cheaper.
Resistance is on the rise
Unfortunately, it soon turns out that the bacteria do not accept their temporary defeat. Thousands of times higher doses of penicillin are soon needed than before. The pharmaceutical industry is looking for - and finding - replacement antibiotics, to which the bacteria also become resistant over time. There is an ongoing arms race between bacteria and the pharmaceutical researchers. Unfortunately, in recent years it seems more and more that we are losing this race. Bacteria become resistant more quickly than new antibiotics are discovered or developed. Antibiotics like penicillin and chloramphenicol lost their effect long ago. Especially the aggressive throat bacteria Staphylococcus aureus appears to rapidly become resistant. In 1996, MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus) could only be used with the toxic antibiotic vancomycin (which has the necessary unpleasant side effects) to be treated. In 2002, however, the first VRSA (vancomycin-resistant staphylococcus aureus) appeared. Right now, doctors are reaching for it even more unattractive tigecycline, which entails an increased risk of death.
Staphylococcus aureus is no exception. E. coli and other problem bacteria are also rapidly becoming resistant to an impressive collection of antibiotics. Doctors increasingly have their hands in the hair and try to slow down the infection by using antibiotics sparingly. It doesn't help very much.
Antibiotic abuse in animal husbandry
No wonder. The use of antibiotics in livestock farming is still practically unabated. Especially in the US, antibiotics are extremely lavish and that is why MRSA occurs in about a quarter of chicken and pork. In the Netherlands, this is probably not much different given the abuse of antibiotics. Enjoy your meal.
A number of people have allergies to pork. This may have to do with the massive use of antibiotics. Also here in Europe, antibiotic abuse in livestock farming is commonplace. Unlike doctors, veterinarians do not have any restrictions on the use of antibiotics. On the contrary, they earn extra because of the sale of medicines is an important source of income for veterinarians.
No wonder, then, that multidrug-resistant strains of bacteria are advancing and that the first victims are often farmers and their families. Many doctors therefore no longer want to eat chicken. The agricultural ministry dominated by the CDA unfortunately refuses to intervene very hard. The Danes prove that things can be done differently. There, the abuse of antibiotics has been rigorously tackled, which hardly entailed any additional costs for the farmers.
Ban all antibiotics in animal husbandry; enter a label for antibiotic-free meat
Residues of antibiotics remain in meat, which are absorbed when meat is eaten. As a result, gut bacteria and bacteria elsewhere in the body become resistant to antibiotics. Meat eaters also consume large quantities of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. A very damaging situation for public health.
The best measure, of course, is to reserve all, or by far most, antibiotics for human use only. Farmers and veterinarians who violate these rules can face severe sanctions, such as forced closure of the farm. Meat containing antibiotics from abroad is also banned, or provided with a large warning sticker if European rules prohibit this. Another solution is to introduce a quality mark for all meat that is free of antibiotics and MRSA.
Obviously, some wailing from lobbyists is to be expected. They can be publicly pilloried for what they are: unscrupulous opportunists who endanger human lives for a dubious bit (about one percent, according to WHO, (2)) extra profit.
1. US Meat and Poultry Is Widely Contaminated With Drug-Resistant Staph Bacteria, Study Finds, Science Daily (2011)
2. Low-Level Use of Antibiotics In Livestock and Poultry, Food Marketing Institute