(NaturalHealth365) Antibiotic resistance – marked by the rise of difficult-to-treat “superbugs” such as MRSA – has been labeled by the World Health Organization as an emerging global public health crisis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – which echoes the stance of the WHO in characterizing antibiotic resistance as one of the world’s “most pressing” health problems – the condition claims at least 23,000 lives every year in the United States alone. According to researchers, the use of antibiotics in conventional farming is a major cause of this frightening phenomenon. (In sharp contrast, the use of antibiotics in organic food is prohibited).
Let’s take a closer look at the ways in which conventional farming practices can promote antibiotic resistance – and see why organic farming practices offer the best hope for preventing it.
Research leaves no room for doubt: Non-organic (chemical-based) farming causes antibiotic resistance
In a 2015 study published in the peer-reviewed journal Infection and Drug Resistance, the authors concluded that “the use and misuse of antibiotics in farm animal settings… has boosted….resistance among bacteria in the animal habitat.”
The scientists went on to report that this resistance can then be transmitted to humans through a variety of means, including food consumption.
Critics of conventional farming agree, maintaining that the poorly regulated industry has caused the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria on farms. These bacteria then spread into the environment, eventually reaching consumers through food or waterways.
Scientists say that a reservoir of resistant bacteria in the soil – or in the human gut – can contribute the genetic material necessary for resistance. Resistance first starts in the bacteria that normally live in the gut microbiome – then transfers over to pathogens.
And here’s a frightening fact: In order to develop antibiotic resistance, it is not necessary for the pathogens to be directly contacted or sprayed with antibiotic. Researchers have learned that the movement of genes in bacteria is not only through “vertical gene transfer” (from parent to young) but can also be through “horizontal gene transfer” – jumping from one bacterial species to another.
Lethal consequences: Antibiotic resistance is behind the rise in deadly infections
As bacterial infections area become resistant to commonly prescribed antibiotics, they can cause longer-lasting, more serious infections – along with higher medical expenses. Even worse, antibiotic resistance can cause the complete failure of a medication to treat life-threatening infections.
Unfortunately, tetracycline and streptomycin – a pair of antibiotics commonly used in livestock and plant agriculture – also happen to be “go-to” medications for treating diseases in humans.
Tetracycline is commonly used for respiratory tract infections, sinus infections and middle ear infections. It may also be used to treat more life-threatening conditions such as anthrax, plague and cholera.
Streptomycin is used to treat tuberculosis, plague, brucellosis and bacterial endocarditis (an infection of the lining of the heart). Plus, according to the National Library of Medicine, the effectiveness of both of these medications is currently “limited by widespread resistance.”
While conventional farming uses streptomycin and tetracycline against diseases such as fire blight, organic farming avoids their use with a variety of practices – including choosing resistant types of fruit trees, properly balancing nutrients and utilizing organic fungicides such as lime sulfur.
Antibiotics are widely used to prevent – not treat – illness in livestock
Surprisingly, the majority of antibiotics in the United States are administered to livestock – not people.
Physicians for Social Responsibility – a non-profit group that advocates for policies that improve public health – notes that close to 30 million pounds of antibiotics were used in poultry and cattle production in 2011 alone. Only 7.7 million pounds were used to treat human diseases.
And – rather than being used to treat acute illnesses – 90 percent of the antibiotics used in animal production are given at low levels in feed and water in order to prevent diseases that result from overcrowded, unsanitary conditions.
These antibiotics then end up in manure – a major source of environmental contamination.
But organic farming requires that manure used to fertilize crops intended for human consumption must be composted or introduced into the soil three to four months before harvest – thereby reducing concentrations of both antibiotics and antibiotic-resistant microbes, and helping to curtail the vicious cycle of resistance.
And, organic livestock production completely prohibits the use of antibiotics for growth promotion or prophylactic (preventive) measures. If an animal is treated with antibiotics as a medical necessity, the meat or milk can no longer be sold as organic.
Toxic glyphosate is both herbicide and antibiotic – and contributes to antibiotic resistance
Glyphosate, the active ingredient in the weed killer Roundup, is extensively sprayed on food crops such as corn and wheat. But it is also patented by its manufacturer, Monsanto, as an antibiotic.
In fact, glyphosate is the most widely used antibiotic in conventional agriculture – and natural health experts say it is wreaking havoc on human health.
In addition to promoting antibiotic resistance, glyphosate can disrupt the normal balance of the human gut microbiome – the community of beneficial bacteria living in the digestive tract. It is associated with a wide variety of conditions – including non-Hodgkins lymphoma, birth defects, autism and more – and is classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as a “probable human carcinogen.”
(Huge!) bonus: the use of glyphosate is prohibited in organic farming.
An organic diet offers a range of health benefits
Crops and livestock labeled as USDA certified organic have been produced without the use of synthetic pesticides, GMOs, antibiotics, synthetic hormones or artificial fertilizers. Not only does organic fare contain much lower levels of these toxins, but there is evidence that it may be more nutritious than conventionally-farmed foods.
A 2014 meta-analysis published in the prestigious British Journal of Nutrition showed that organically grown crops were a whopping 48 percent less likely to test positive for cadmium, a toxic heavy metal.
And, organic meat and milk products have been found to contain up to 50 percent more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, and up to 20 percent more disease-fighting antioxidants – along with less saturated fat.
In addition to their other benefits, organic farming practices are more humane than those of chemical-driven agriculture. Organic standards require that animals be kept in living conditions that accommodate their natural behavior – and access to the outdoors, fresh air and sunlight is mandatory.
Not only can organic farming help to stem the tide of dangerous antibiotic resistance, but it is more sustainable, more humane – and yields more nutritious food.
Sounds like a win/win for everyone.
Sources for this article include:
Food & Nutrition
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