UN to Tackle Antibiotic-Resistant Superbugs Like AIDS and Ebola Outbreaks

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We can point the finger at anyone we want: prescription-happy doctors, factory farms, the antibiotic-resistant superbugs themselves. But no matter what, this is the new reality we live in--antibiotics are failing to work in humans when needed most--so we may as well try to understand this all too real threat.

The cold, hard facts

A UK government report confirmed that each year, worldwide, “more than 700,000 people die, including about 214,000 infants less than a month old, due to antibiotic-resistant bacteria,” Modern Farmer reports.

"[T]hese so-called superbugs could kill 300 million people by 2050—surpassing the number of those who die from cancer—if major steps aren’t taken to try and halt the spread.”

The United Nations General Assembly responded quickly to the crisis. The Assembly will formally address the issue next month. This is the fourth time in 70 years the group has had to deal with a global health crisis. “The others included the HIV/AIDS pandemic in 1996, non-communicable diseases in 2011, and the Ebola outbreak in 2014,” Modern Farmer adds. But this is the first time a crisis of this magnitude is directly related to an industry-spawned matter.

Who is working on the crisis

Eleven experts who study antibiotic-resistant bacteria published a warning in the journal The Lancet earlier this month.

The call-to-action asks governments, agencies and industries throughout the world to come together to help mitigate this looming crisis. Animal agriculture is the leading industry contributing to the problem.

Almost two-thirds of worldwide antibiotic supplies go to livestock.

“According to the FDA, about 80 percent of antibiotics are used for livestock and 20 percent for humans in the United States (although the agency later urged caution on making a direct comparison),” Modern Farmers reports.

Antibiotics, while critical for managing infections, are most often used to increase commercial livestock's size. Scientists don't really know why they increase animal size, but because of this side effect, commercial farms use antibiotics to move animals to market weight faster, which means quicker revenues and more growing cycles per year.

“Because of this, the drugs can lose their potency," reports Modern Farmer. "And when antibiotic-resistant bacteria develop in livestock, the bacteria can make the jump to humans through direct contact or through meat and other animal products, helping to spread diseases that are increasingly becoming harder to cure."

And to add insult to injury, the U.S. doesn't have an enforceable policy concerning antibiotic use for livestock. The industry only has a set of voluntary guidelines created by the USDA. They are merely "suggestions for best practices.”

Related on Organic Authority
California Enacts Toughest Animal Antibiotics Law in the U.S.
Reversing Antibiotic Resistance: Scientists Take a Swing at Superbugs
Can Antibiotic Resistance and Superbugs be Stopped with Special Proteins?

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