To Guardian enviro-scribe, George Monbiot, there's danger lurking for the UK in any free trade deal with the United States: livestock laced with antibiotics.
It looks like a proper zombie apocalypse. Bacteria we thought we had conquered are on the march again, defeating almost all attempts to slaughter them. Having broken through the outer walls, they have reached our last lines of defence. Antibiotic resistance is among the greatest threats to human health.
Infections that were once easy to quash now threaten our lives. Doctors warn that routine procedures such as caesareans, hip replacements and chemotherapy could one day become impossible due to the risk of exposing patients to deadly infection. Already, in the European Union alone, 25,000 people are dying each year because of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Yet our last defences – the rare drugs to which bacteria have not yet become immune – are being squandered with wild abandon. While most doctors seek to use them precisely and parsimoniously, some livestock farms literally slosh them around. They add them to the feed and water supplied to entire herds of cattle, pigs and poultry: not to treat illness, but to prevent it.
Or not even that. In the 1950s, farmers discovered that small quantities of antibiotics added to feed made animals grow faster. Using antibiotics as growth promoters – low doses routinely applied – is a perfect formula for generating bacterial resistance. Yet many countries continue to permit this reckless practice. The US Food and Drug Administration asks drug companies voluntarily to refrain from labelling antibiotics as growth promoters, suggesting they be rebranded for “new therapeutic indications”. Around 75% of the antibiotics used in the US are fed to farm animals. Our city is under siege, and we are knocking down our own defences.
This graphic illustrates what's happening and not just in the United States. I had to make it full size for legibility.
This chart, from Pew, shows antibiotic use in the United States for 2011.