The antibiotic era has been a wonderful one for human beings, who no longer have to fear dying from infections caused by minor cuts or scratches. From penicillin to cephalexin to doxycycline, there is an antibiotic for just about every possible bacterial infection. But overuse and especially misuse of antibiotics has led to bacteria developing resistance against those antibiotics. With the rise of bacteria that are resistant to just about all antibiotics in existence today, we risk entering a post-antibiotic era in which human beings once again will be subject to possible death through minor injuries.
It isn’t just human beings who will enter that post-antibiotic era either. Nearly three-quarters of antibiotics used today are on food animals. Those animals are now facing an antibiotic resistance crisis of their own. That could put at risk not just the health of those animals, but any human beings who consume their meat.
With many developing countries rising out of poverty, meat consumption in those countries is increasing. Farmers treat their animals with antibiotics in order to stimulate the animals to put on more weight, but inevitably the bacteria exposed to those antibiotics have developed resistance, most especially in India and China.
But even major meat exporters such as Brazil engage in the practice of antibiotic overuse too, which has concerns for the world food supply. Especially with regard to beef, which is commonly eaten undercooked, the possibility is raised that consumption of beef that contains these antibiotic-resistant bacteria could sicken consumers. Then there is the threat that antibiotic-resistant bacteria could run rampant through commercial herds, killing millions of animals.
China is already facing the problem of a swine virus right now, which has shot pork prices up to astronomical levels. Millions of pigs have had to be destroyed, and people who depended on pork for their protein have had to switch to chicken or make do without. For people who are today increasingly used to eating meat, the rise in price or lack of availability of meat as a result of antibiotic resistance in animals could have serious effects on their diet and their health.
That won’t just have an effect in China and India, but also in the rest of the world, as those antibiotic-resistant bacteria would undoubtedly spread to the US and Europe. At this point we have to hope that other countries combat the problem of antibiotic resistance before it becomes a major problem.