The United Nations General Assembly has just met to tackle a “fundamental threat”: antibiotic-resistant superbugs.
It was only the fourth time in history that the assembly met specifically to talk about a public health issue, and they referred to these superbugs as “the biggest threat to modern medicine”. England’s chief medical officer has also called antibiotic resistance “the greatest future threat to our civilisation”.
This is a problem we can’t afford to ignore.
To tackle the emergence of these drug-resistant superbugs, we need to turn our attention to the industry that uses more antibiotics than any other – animal agriculture.
Globally, more antibiotics are prescribed to treat animals on farms than to treat humans. Intensive farms, where thousands of animals are kept together in cramped and often dirty conditions, fed unnatural diets, and subjected to intense stress, are a breeding ground for new bacteria and viruses.
Practices such as separating baby animals from their mothers before their immune systems have fully developed make them even more vulnerable to disease. As a result, pigs, chickens, and cows are routinely pumped full of drugs to keep them just healthy enough to survive until they reach “slaughter weight”.
In Australia, there are no laws governing antibiotic use in farmed animals, while hospitals and laboratories in most states aren’t required to notify the public when superbugs are found.
And the antibiotics given to animals on farms are often the same as, or very similar to, those used to fight disease in humans. For example, colistin – a “last resort” antibiotic in human medicine – is frequently used to mass-medicate pigs and poultry.
Australians are among the highest antibiotic users in the world – 46 per cent of the population was prescribed the drugs in 2014 alone.
Drug-resistant bacteria currently claims 700,000 lives a year, and health officials warn that this figure could climb to ten million a year if we don’t limit our consumption of antibiotics. We can do this by choosing vegan foods rather than animal-based ones.
We need decisive action from world leaders to eradicate inhumane and dangerous factory farms and promote a shift to plant-based eating. This would also end the suffering of millions of animals and help to address climate change, too.
As long as cows, pigs, chickens, and other farmed animals are raised in cramped, faeces-filled cages, crates, and sheds—and fed growth-promoting antibiotics—superbugs are likely to cause sickness and death.
And antibiotic-free or not, meat and other animal-based foods are high in cholesterol and saturated fat. They contribute to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and other life-threatening diseases.
The healthiest option is to choose tasty vegan foods, which are cholesterol-free, generally low in fat and calories, and don’t naturally harbour harmful bacteria.