It is predicted that by 2050, every three seconds a person will die as a result of antibiotic resistant bacteria that have evolved under the over-use of antibiotics. There is no doubt that many of these deaths will be due to the wildly irresponsible use of antibiotics in agriculture commonplace today. The practice started in the 1950s, when American scientists discovered that routinely feeding livestock the drugs could double productivity by boosting animal growth and minimising disease; especially useful in intensive farming. Today, 40% of all antibiotics used in the UK are given to farm animals; in the USA it’s 80%.
There is nothing new here. Antibiotic resistance as a result of prophylactic agricultural use (ie. before animals fall ill) was raised as a concern by scientists almost as soon as the practice began, yet, staggeringly, no effective action has been taken. This is a failure of national and international governments who are allowing the interests of a few intensive industrial farmers and pharmaceutical companies, supported by a tiny minority of vets, to condemn millions to death. It is laissez-faire, neo liberal economics taken to an absurd extreme; what hope is there of addressing the many problems we face when governments fail to stand up to such commercial lobbying or to take the obvious action needed?
Instead of frittering away precious antibiotics as sticking plasters for unethical animal husbandry, we should be ring-fencing them and researching other ways to keep our animals healthy, even when we don’t understand how these work and cannot sell them for profit. For years the Riverford Dairy herd have been fed apple pomace in the autumn, the by-product of cider making, from our
neighbours at Luscombe. No one understands why, but their milk ‘cell count’ (an indication of subclinical mastitis) drops substantially at the same time. It is far from a complete solution and won’t pay for any lobbyists, but could be a small step towards keeping our animals healthy with fewer antibiotics.
Obviously I will end this newsletter with an urge for you to buy organic meat, eggs and dairy, where the prophylactic use of antibiotics is forbidden. Yet we need to act more broadly; you can sign a petition at saveourantibiotics.org, before we hit a truly frightening dead-end.