DEAR READERS: I am sure that many of the issues I raise in this column are disturbing, even depressing. But I hope that in being informed, you will be empowered to make the best decisions to achieve a good, secure quality of life for yourselves and for all beings -- especially our animal companions.
Back in the 1980s, I was involved in addressing the animal welfare, environmental and public health concerns involved with factory farms, which were documented in my book "Agricide: The Hidden Farm and Food Crisis That Affects Us All." I met with the director of the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine to urge immediate action to curtail the feeding of human-lifesaving antibiotics to farm animals. Livestock were being given these medications to boost productivity -- and profits -- and to guard against diseases, to which the farms' inhumane, overcrowded conditions made them more susceptible.
In that long-ago conversation, the FDA official shook his head, even while pointing to a pile of reports on his desk supporting my concerns. He told me that because of the political power of the pharmaceutical industry and the livestock and poultry sectors, his hands were tied.
Now, 40 years later, we face the consequences of what I consider tantamount to a crime against humanity stemming from this profit-driven misuse of antibiotics, marginally compounded by overprescribing physicians and the medications' over-the-counter availability in many countries.
An analysis of human deaths associated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria was published in The Lancet in January. As summarized on Nature.com, the analysis "estimates that in 2019, 4.95 million people died from illnesses in which bacterial antimicrobial resistance (AMR) played a part. Of those, 1.27 million deaths were the direct result of AMR -- meaning that drug-resistant infections killed more people than HIV/AIDS (864,000 deaths) or malaria (643,000 deaths)."
The Natural Resources Defense Council recently did a comparative analysis of human and farm animal antibiotic use. According to its report, "Use of antibiotics in human medicine has remained consistent since 2009. It even declined slightly since 2017, despite the year-on-year increase in the U.S. population. By contrast, sales of these same drugs for use in livestock increased 11.3% from 2017 to 2019 ... Livestock sales are now nearly double the sales for human medicine" (full report at nrdc.org).
This analysis concludes with this important statement: "The CDC states that 75% of dangerous new infections, including pandemics, spill over from animals to human populations. These animal-borne threats include viruses as well as new forms of antibiotic resistance genes and the multi-drug resistant superbugs that carry them. Pandemic preparedness and public health protection should be our nation's foremost priority. We must therefore invest to robustly to track antibiotic resistance and antibiotic use wherever it occurs."
Consumers should remember that no antibiotics are used as feed additives or production enhancers in certified organic meat, eggs, poultry and dairy products.
PANIC KILLING OF MONKEYS
Monkeys in Sao Paulo, Brazil, may have been intentionally injured or poisoned out of fear of the monkeypox virus, despite that fact that it is spread primarily by rodents, not monkeys. The virus is now being spread from person to person. "So do not stigmatize any animal or any human, because if you do that, we will have a much larger outbreak," said World Health Organization spokesperson Margaret Harris. (Full story: The Guardian, Aug. 10)
This is reminiscent of the attacks and mass extermination of bats in many countries after misinformation and fear spread at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Bats, like all creatures, have their role to play, and in fact are quite beneficial to humans: Researchers in Indonesia conservatively estimate that bats save cacao growers more than $700 million annually in avoided insect damage. In Mexico, tequila and mescal production, worth billions annually, relies on bats that pollinate agaves. And from Southeast Asia to the Mediterranean, bats provide key pest control for rice growers.
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