Antibiotics in Our Food: Chemical Warfare We Cannot Win

November 4, 2014 4:38 PM

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Antibiotics in Our Food: Chemical Warfare We Cannot Win

Given current concern about the Ebola virus, it's surprising that the public isn't more alarmed about "superbugs." Superbugs are infectious bacteria that have mutated to adapt to antibiotics that were designed to kill them, making the drugs ineffective. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least 2 million people become infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the U.S. annually, resulting in at least 23,000 deaths -- the equivalent of 46 jumbo jets crashing, with no survivors. Many others die from conditions complicated by antibiotic-resistant infections. Superbugs cause an estimated 8 million days in U.S. hospitals each year, costing between $21 and $34 billion. My friend, in her 50s, recently died in the hospital of an antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus infection. After five days in the hospital, a friend of a friend -- even younger -- conquered a staph infection, but he suffered gastrointestinal problems because the powerful antibiotics that killed the staph also killed his healthy gut bacteria.

These statistics can scare us, or they can empower us to demand safer agricultural practices. The recent Frontline episode "The Trouble With Antibiotics" investigates a major cause of the resistance problem: antibiotics administered to farm animals. With the discovery of antibiotics in 1929 and the ...

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