Saturday, October 12, 2013

animal farm

Photo by the author

There's ointment on the flies.

Then again, there is antibiotic ointment... or a version thereof... slathered all over just about every large-scale farm animal in America.

In most of the developed world, the small family farm was wiped out several decades ago. With it went a whole way of life... ma, pa, apple pie... and healthy animals. The rich, diversified microbiota that had been naturally developing and passing down from farm animal to farm animal through thousands of generations of human farmers went, too, because the new model packs animals into mega-shelters with controlled climates and living quarters smaller, by equivalent, than a New York apartment closet space. The creatures are packed in beak to beak, cheek to cheek in a manner that would absolutely be considered abusive by any city ordinance of a citizen were found keeping pets in the same population density.  You've read the stories; the old lady who had fifty-three cats, and so on. 

While the old lady gets herself prosecuted, factory farms are allowed by law to pack animals together in much denser volumes; it's not only legal, it's encouraged. Farm factories, all private (and often taxpayer-subsidized!) operations don't allow the public in to see their operations any more; the conditions are too horrifying, and too many scandals have erupted when the ugly truth of these places gets broadcast.

Leaving aside the morals of the situation, which are deeply troublesome, let's consider the health implications. These animals are under severe stress, living in conditions that have nothing to do with their natural habitat; they are artificially bred and systematically deprived of ordinary exposure to disease pathogens, serially crippling their immune systems. They are fed diets (often corn-based) to fatten them that have nothing to do with the natural food balances that both their gut biota and digestive systems originally evolved to cope with.

They can get sick. Very sick.

The answer is to feed them enormous amounts of antibiotics. It's estimated that 84%!! of the antibiotics used in the United States each year are fed to farm animals. Yokel-based reasoning about this horror story completely ignores the basic problem: this level of antibiotic use is breeding drug-resistant microbes at an ever-accelerating pace. Other countries have banned or drastically reduced the use of antibiotics in farm feed, but the United States has yet to take any serious action in this critical area. make no mistake about it, the epidemic of antibiotic use is killing people; there's no doubt that exposure to residual antibiotics in meat products is rendering the infections in human beings less sensitive to antibiotics; the flood of antibiotics used in American foods is generating a massive evolutionary surge in bacteria which is rendering them nearly immune to the drugs we count on to save us.

This isn't a disaster waiting to happen. It's a disaster that is already happening; but because the disaster is largely unseen, it is discounted.

We must be aware of one more very disturbing but rarely noted fact.

The changes these antibiotics are causing in the visible section of the population—that is, the known microbes, the farm animals, and human beings they interact with— represent a tiny fraction of the total population of bacteria being affected by these drugs. Drugs, you see, don't just disappear after they are administered to animals; they're secreted, that is, excreted in urine or solid excrement.

The antibiotic drugs are, in other words, not gone once they're taken:  they're flooding out by the millions of tons per year all over globe into every conceivable ecosystem we can imagine. These drugs have been detected in almost every body of water tested for them.

And no one knows what they are doing there; except that they are certainly doing something. It is an uncontrolled evolutionary experiment on a massive scale; a modern version of the Island of Doctor Moreau.

Recommended reading: Animal Factory by David Kirby. This book will certainly open your eyes.

PS— in today's news... drug resistant bacteria are now impacting professional sports... now there's and event that might finally get Americans to wake up and pay attention!

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