While the vast majority of my writing is meant as a celebration of the earth's last wild places, as I mentioned in my post of July 25th - The Lessons of Loss - life on this planet simply can't be segregated into "things wild and safe," and "things at risk." Much of nature will not survive a careless society. And at the same time, much of humanity cannot survive in a severely compromised natural world.
Which brings me once again back to the topic of food. This time, to the rampant use of antibiotics in industrial livestock production. Many years ago producers discovered that adding small amounts of antibiotics to the food or water of confined sheep, cattle, chickens and hogs promoted faster growth. The practice seemed to offer the added benefit of protecting against many of the illnesses so easily spread in crowded confinement operations. But now we have a problem. By all indications, this heavy use of antibiotics (over half the antibiotics sold in America are used for livestock), is prompting the rapid evolution of drug-resistant strains of bacteria. What's more, the resistant strains that are appearing first in animals are likely connected to the growing problem of drug-resistant bacterial strains in humans. For example, recent studies of large hog confinement operations in Iowa found that not only more than 70% of the pigs, but over half the workers tested positive for a powerful staph infection known as MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), currently responsible for more than 17,000 human deaths annually.
There are alternatives. Denmark, for instance, banned antibiotics to promote growth in livestock some twelve years ago, instead allowing their use only in treating animals that are actually sick. Use of the drugs has dropped more than 40%, while the industry seems to be doing just fine.
It's just one more opportunity to think about the notion of interdependence. One more chance to understand that what we do to the least things of this earth, we do to ourselves.