The development of antibiotics in the mid-20th Century revolutionized public and personal health. Ironically, the early success of antibiotics also fostered a culture, that persists to this day, in which the efficacy of the drugs are taken for granted and the need for new research and development is grossly undervalued. After years of misuse these medical miracles are now failing, at an alarming rate, and the supply of new options is paltry at best. Now public health and some of the crown jewels of modern medicine – such as transplant surgery and chemotherapy — rest precariously on a small handful of increasingly ineffective drugs.
If the news seems dire, it’s because it is. But there is still cause for hope if scientists, citizens, and institutions, can work collaboratively to find new ways to outwit the bad bacteria that make us sick without harming the good bacteria we need to live. In our new film RESISTANCE we’ve traveled across the U.S., to Canada, and to Europe to speak with patients, politicians, farmers, economists and some of the world’s experts in microbiology and infectious disease to collect the successes and failures we need to understand if we’re to resistance from driving fatal infections back to, and perhaps beyond, rates not seen since before antibiotics were first available.
A hypothetical look at our nation’s food system offers a useful metaphor for understanding our current relationship to antibiotics. Imagine that we had developed an affordable way to grow healthy, nutritious, food that, as long as we kept it fresh and did not eat too much of it, could revolutionize the quality of human life on earth. Now imagine that instead of conserving this miracle food we consumed it recklessly and with very little understanding of the long-term implications of doing so. Then add to this equation a variable dictating that once one of these foods tips over into being unhealthy, or at least not pro-health, there is almost no way to recuperate it’s health-inducing properties. I know, hard to imagine such a thing happening to our food supply (sigh), but replace food with antibiotics in the scenario above and that is essentially the current state of affairs.
While antibiotics are vital to human medicine they’re equally important for the health of our animals, especially those raised for food. Yet a wealth of scientific data suggests that the way antibiotics are currently used on industrial-scale American farms actually increases the risk of untreatable infections in the animals on those farms. To this point, there’s been a good deal of coverage on Civil Eats and elsewhere of a recent government report that shows that nearly 30-million of the 37-million pounds of antibiotics used in the U.S. are administered on conventional animal farms.
Most of that use, moreover, is for so-called extra-label use; that is, used not to treat sick animals, but administered in feed and water to synthetically promote growth and putatively guard against infection. Supporters of the status quo in industrial animal farming claim that any human health-risks posed by extra-label use are greatly overstated and do not justify the economic costs that would result from banning antibiotics. Yet a consensus among leading medical associations and health groups (from the Infectious Diseases Society of America to the CDC ) warns that a high volume and frequency of antibiotic use in any context, including and maybe especially on an industrial farm, exacerbates antibiotic resistance.
Needless to say, this subject is large and complex and is greatly inflected by politics economics and the unfolding of science. The goal of our film then is to present a clear-eyed view of the issues and the stakes with the goal of empowering viewers to make informed choices for themselves and their families with regard to antibiotics in the their food and in their medicine. If you’re interested in learning how we got to this point and, perhaps more importantly, what we can do to protect ourselves and our loved-ones from these dangerous infections please take a minute to visit our project site here.
Like the story?
Join the conversation.