The connection between antibiotic resistance and diets high in meat and dairy
On this World Health Day, it is important to consider how our diets can contribute to antibiotic resistance.
By Lynn Kavanah, Farming Campaign Manager
While it is well-known that diets high in saturated fat and animal-sourced foods are risk factors for many non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers, less common knowledge is that animal agriculture is responsible for 75% of antibiotic use worldwide.
Antibiotics are used in farming to prevent the emergence and spread of bacteria in industrialized farming operations, where animals are kept in poor welfare conditions, making them stressed and susceptible to diseases. In short, they are used preventatively to compensate for the intensive, barren, stressful, and poor welfare conditions in which animals are kept.
Chickens raised for meat in an intensive farming system.
The World Health Organization (WHO) considers antibiotic resistance to be one of the top ten public health threats. Antibiotic-resistant infections are linked to at least 4.95 million deaths worldwide. The overuse of antibiotics in human medicine and in farming is blamed for the emergence of AMR, which weakens the effectiveness of antibiotics in treating common, once easily treatable conditions, including blood and intra-abdominal infections, resulting in sickness and death.
Doctors and veterinarians have been advised to prescribe antibiotics cautiously, using them only when necessary. Curbing their use in farming is also crucial, but it requires systemic change. First, raising animals in more humane and higher welfare conditions will help to facilitate a reduction in antibiotic use. There are many real-world examples of farmers who have successfully implemented these changes. Next, as consumers, we have an important role to play. Intensive animal farming is driven by the demand for vast amounts of animal-based foods, which is neither healthy nor sustainable. The are many reasons to reduce our consumption of animal products in favour of more plant-based diets, including climate change mitigation, animal welfare, and public health.
On this World Health Day, let us remember that our food choices have a significant impact on our personal health and the health of the planet and all living beings. By making conscious choices to reduce our consumption of animal products, we can play a part in reducing the overuse of antibiotics and help to combat the serious threat of antibiotic resistance.
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