Antibiotic Resistance takes a sinister new turn

One of the greatest follies of human endeavour since 1945 has been the relentless drive to turn out ever greater quantities of food at ever lower prices. Starting perhaps from a well-meaning intention to “feed the world” it has resulted in little more than an epidemic of obesity, poor nutrition and associated diseases such as diabetes and infirmities of the cardiovascular system.

And one of the most egregious follies recursed within this greater folly has been the reckless application of antibiotics to livestock in all forms in the neurotic chase for ever greater production targets and profits. The consequences were clear to anyone with even a passing understanding of the laws of Natural Selection. Hit bacteria with a heavy raid of antibiotics, and the resistant survivors will breed and multiply until there is nothing you can do about them. It’s where we are today as long-term readers of this blog will recall. And we thought it problem enough!

Now Hannah Devlin of the Guardian reports that the above is only half the problem. Because according to a study from Oxford University, the uncontrolled use of antibiotics may be undermining our natural immune system, regardless of what artificial aids which we use to supplement it. Take one example; the antimicrobial colistin, beloved of farmers in the 1980s is rahter similar to a class of compounds called AMP s which are part of our bodies’ natural immune response. The uncontrolled use of colistin of course led to strains of E Coli which were resistant to it, and by implication to our own AMP. Colistin use has been restricted; but the damage that has been done is permanent. We’ll leave the last word to Professor Maclean, quoted in Hannah’s superb article

This is potentially much more dangerous than resistance to antibiotics,” said Prof Craig MacLean, who led the research at the University of Oxford. “It highlights the danger of indiscriminate use of antimicrobials in agriculture. We’ve accidentally ended up compromising our own immune system to get fatter chickens.”

The consequences of short sighted thinking indeed. Yet that leads to one tiny consolation. The next time some know it all offers you a solution to anything, anything at all, ask yourself this: what are the long term consequences of what he is saying?”

#antibiotic resistance #agriculture #food production #Oxford University #health #obesity

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