World Health Organization Warns of a Post-Antibiotic Era

When I was ten, my life was saved by antibiotics when I had pneumonia and pleurisy simultaneously. So this story has personal resonance for me.

It’s worth noting that 80 percent of the antibiotics used in the United States are used as a routine part of raising animals for meat, dairy, and eggs, on factory farms and other non-organic agricultural operations. That’s where the problem most urgently needs to be addressed. The private sector isn’t doing anything about it, which means it will require regulatory action at the federal level. The sooner the better.

The ‘post-antibiotic’ era is near, according to a report released today by the World Health Organization (WHO). The decreasing effectiveness of antibiotics and other antimicrobial agents is a global problem, and a surveillance system should be established to monitor it, the group says.

There is nothing hopeful in the WHO’s report, which pulls together data from 129 member states to show extensive resistance to antimicrobial agents in every region of the world. Overuse of antibiotics in agriculture — to promote livestock growth — and in hospitals quickly leads to proliferation of drug-resistant bacteria, which then spread via human travel and poor sanitation practices.

“A post-antibiotic era — in which common infections and minor injuries can kill — far from being an apocalyptic fantasy, is instead a very real possibility for the twenty-first century,” writes Keiji Fukuda, WHO assistant director-general for health security, in a foreword to the report.

Perhaps the most worrying trend is the spread of resistance to carbapenems, the ‘antibiotics of last resort’, says Timothy Walsh, a medical microbiologist at Cardiff University, UK, who was an adviser for the report. “That’s taken us by surprise,” he says. “All of us are rather like rabbits in front of the headlights in how quickly this has taken off.”

 

Organic Chicken Has as Many Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria as Conventional Chicken

Tom Philpott has a post at Mother Jones today about a Consumer Reports finding that, surprisingly, certified organic (and therefore antibiotic-free) chicken has as many “superbugs” (antibiotic-resistant bacteria) as chicken raised conventionally with antibiotics. The finding is clear but the reasons behind it aren’t at this point.

What got me was that chicken samples labeled “organic” or “no antibiotics” (list of all brands tested here) were just as likely to contain these potentially deadly, drug-defying pathogens. Notably, organic and antibiotic-free chicken both carry substantial premiums over conventional—at my local H-E-B supermarket in Austin, organic boneless chicken breast is fetching $7.97 per pound—vs. $4.99 for no-antibiotic and $1.97 for regular.

My surprise wasn’t based on some romantic notion that organic food is cleaner. Bacteria develop the ability to withstand to antibiotics by being exposed to them regularly. US Department of Agriculture code forbids antibiotics in organic meat production, and the “no antibiotics” label means just that, and is also regulated by the USDA.

Eighty percent of antibiotics used in the United States are given to animals raised for meat, dairy and eggs. Nearly all are given routinely, with the intent of preventing disease in these farmed animals, rather than as treatment for sick animals. The remaining 20 percent are used in human medicine.

Public health officials fear that if antibiotic resistance continues to accelerate at its current trajectory, we may find ourselves in a post-antibiotic age in the near future. If and when this happens, many infectious diseases that were fatal or caused permanently damage before the invention of antibiotics will be much more difficult to treat, as was the case prior to the 1940s.

The routine use of antibiotics in animal agriculture is an area ripe for reexamination.

UN Panel Urges Global Move Toward Meat and Dairy-Free Diet

This is from the UN Environmental Programme. It’s a fair reading of the available data, which indicates that changes in two sectors, animal agriculture and the burning of fossil fuel, are the keys to avoiding catastrophic climate change. This report goes public in the week that the world also surpassed the 400 ppm level of CO2.

This is a major health policy issue, ultimately dwarfing those that absorb more of our attention at the moment.

A global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from hunger, fuel poverty and the worst impacts of climate change, a UN report said today.

As the global population surges towards a predicted 9.1 billion people by 2050,  western tastes for diets rich in meat and dairy products are unsustainable, says the report from United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) international panel of sustainable resource management.

It says: “Impacts from agriculture are expected to increase substantially due to population growth increasing consumption of animal products. Unlike fossil fuels, it is difficult to look for alternatives: people have to eat. A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products.”

Professor Edgar Hertwich, the lead author of the report, said: “Animal products cause more damage than [producing] construction minerals such as sand or cement, plastics or metals. Biomass and crops for animals are as damaging as [burning] fossil fuels.”

 

Causing Our Children’s Illnesses by Starting Solid Foods Too Soon

When we forget the basics of natural healthcare, we and our children suffer the consequences. Feeding solids too early in a child’s life appears to lead to allergies and other problems as well.

Disturbingly, this is often done on the advice of ill-informed doctors:

Many mothers in the U.S. start infants on solid foods — including peanut butter, meat, and french fries — earlier than experts recommend, and half of them do so with their doctor’s support, according to new research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study found that 40.4 percent of U.S. mothers interviewed from 2005 to 2007 said they introduced solid foods to infants before they were 4 months old — that represents an increase of about 29 percent from earlier studies, the researchers reported today in the journal Pediatrics.

Introducing solids early may increase the risk of some chronic diseases, the authors noted, including diabetes, obesity, eczema, and celiac disease.

 

 

Dispelling Soy Myths

Two articles on soy appear in today’s Huffington Post. Neal Barnard, MD, sums up the evidence clearly and accurately, with aptly chosen scientific references to support his assertions, while Joseph Mercola, DO, takes a different approach.

From Dr. Barnard:

Soybeans are handy. Aside from the traditional foods they bring us — edamame, tofu, tempeh, and many others — they transform into tasty substitutes for milk, yogurt, ice cream, bacon, burgers, and sausage. With no animal fat, cholesterol, or sensitizing animal proteins, they side-step the problems that animal products can cause. Cow’s milk, for example, is linked to Type 1 diabetes and anemia in children and increases the risk of prostate cancer in men. Hamburgers are linked to heart disease, diabetes, and colon cancer. Soy-based milks and burgers help you skip all this. But soy has other huge benefits you may not know about.

Among the other well-documented effects of soy products is that they boost survival in breast cancer patients (contrary to an oft-repeated set of false claims) and lower cholesterol levels.

Read Dr. Barnard’s entire article for a further debunking of soy mythology.

Milk, Particularly Skim Milk, Associated with Acne

In a finding that contradicts longstanding claims by the American Dairy Council, the Harvard Nurses health study has found an association between milk, particularly skim milk, and acne.  The most likely explanation is the hormone content in the milk, which is present in both organic and conventional milk.

From the accompanying editorial in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology:

“The papers…from the Harvard School of Public Health establish an association between milk consumption and acne. But how could milk cause acne? Because, drinking milk and consuming dairy products from pregnant cows exposes us to the hormones produced by the cows’ pregnancy, hormones that we were not designed to consume during our teenage and adult years. It is no secret that teenagers’ acne closely parallels hormonal activity…So what happens if exogenous hormones are added to the normal endogenous load? And what exactly is the source of these hormones? Consider that, in nature, milk is consumed from a mother, whether human or bovine, until weaning occurs. Normally, the mother then ceases lactation before the next pregnancy occurs—so that consuming milk from a mother pregnant with her next offspring is not a common occurrence. We’ve all seen nature films of animals chasing their offspring away to encourage weaning at the appropriate time. Further, in nature the offspring consumes only the milk of its own species—but both of these natural rules are broken by humans. Viewed objectively, human consumption of large volumes of another species’ milk, especially when that milk comes mainly from pregnant cows during the human’s normally post-weaned years, is essentially unnatural.”