Science – Superbugs To Kill More People Than Cancer If Industrial Agriculture Doesn’t Ditch Antibiotics And Pesticides

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Science - Superbugs To Kill More People Than Cancer If Industrial Agriculture Doesn't Ditch Antibiotics And Pesticides
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Emerging evidence is further establishing what many of us have already known; that industrialized agriculture is wreaking havoc on the natural environment, including our species. The careless use of pesticides, herbicides, and antibiotics in industrial agriculture is helping “cultivate” drug-resistant superbugs. This presents a serious threat to the environment.

On request of the UK Prime Minister, Jim O’Neil conducted The Review on Antimicrobial Resistance [1] in an attempt to tackle the rising cases of drug-resistant infections. The report showed that mortality due to drug-resistant superbugs could hit 10 million by 2050 – surpassing cancer by 2 million.

The facts are clear as day: More and more fungi and bacteria are building resistance against common drugs. If this trend is not checked, we might be looking at a new global pandemic of our own creation!

In addition to the British review by O’Neil, a recent report [2] was submitted to the United Nations, drawing attention to new drug-resistant superbugs. Below are the main culprits to the escalating crisis, accelerated by industrial agriculture:

Antibiotic Resistance

Antibiotic resistance (the evolution of bacterial strains to become resistant to antibiotics) is often blamed on the over-prescription of these drugs in medical facilities, and overuse of antibiotics in livestock rearing. Regarding the latter, it’s approximated that industrial agriculture administers 80% of antibiotics [3] to promote the rearing of farm animals. If you’re wondering how this translates to superbugs in human, the resistant bacteria strains are transferrable either through exposure to manure or consumption of contaminated animal products. In fact, findings from a study [4] appearing in the JAMA journal, show that you’re 30% more likely to catch MRSA (a notorious superbug) if you live near pig farms. With the rampant use of antibiotics by industrial agriculture and the consequent increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria, change is imperative!

Fungicides

Bacteria are not the only microorganism learning to dodge our medications – fungi are also claiming a share of the impending pandemic, case in point, the Candida auris fungus. If you keep tabs on trending medical news, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of a “mysterious infection” that killed an elderly man in 2018, sending the medical community in a frenzy of panic. As reported by The New York Times [5], C. auris is like a hyena, preying on the weak and vulnerable. It mainly targets people with autoimmune disorders or weak immune systems such as diabetics, newborns, and the elderly.

Regarding the case of the elderly man, the fungus was so invasive and resilient that it was tested on nearly every surface of his Mount Sinai Hospital room. Similar to antibiotics, scientists believe that improper use of fungicides may be contributing to the rise of drug-resistant fungi such as C. auris.

Agricultural Changes

The emerging trends call for strict measures and initiatives to regulate drug-dependent industrial farms with emphasis on animal welfare, holistic land management, and soil health. Moving to a more sustainable farming model of food sovereignty or agroecology would help curb the proliferation of drug-resistant superbugs, or even help remedy the climate crisis and extinction of species. In the meantime, you’d be better placed buying locally-sourced organic food from small producers.

References:

[1] Review on Antimicrobial Resistance. (2016). Tackling drug-resistant infections globally: final report and recommendations. Review on antimicrobial resistance.

[2] No Time to Wait: Securing the future from drug-resistant infections. (2019). Retrieved 18 October 2019, from https://www.who.int/antimicrobial-resistance/interagency-coordination-group/final-report/en/

[3] Guglielmi, G. (2017). Are antibiotics turning livestock into superbug factories?. Retrieved 18 October 2019, from https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/09/are-antibiotics-turning-livestock-superbug-factories

[4] Casey, J. A., Curriero, F. C., Cosgrove, S. E., Nachman, K. E., & Schwartz, B. S. (2013). High-density livestock operations, crop field application of manure, and risk of community-associated methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infection in Pennsylvania. JAMA internal medicine, 173(21), 1980-1990. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4372690/

[5] Richtel, M., & Jacobs, A. (2019). A Mysterious Infection, Spanning the Globe in a Climate of Secrecy. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/06/health/drug-resistant-candida-auris.html

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