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Superbugs & Antibiotic Resistance: Organic Agriculture to the Rescue

by Melinda Hemmelgarn, M.S., R.D.

Can you imagine a world without functioning antibiotics? I don't mean to scare you, but we're heading in that direction – thanks to the misuse of antibiotics in human medicine and industrial agriculture.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, antibiotic resistance is one of the world's most pressing public health problems. Almost all important bacterial infections in the U.S. and throughout the world are becoming resistant to previously effective antibiotics. (5, 6) For example, some strains of tuberculosis are now resistant to all available antimicrobial drugs.(3, 6)

Life-saving antibiotics enabled us to make tremendous advances in fighting infectious disease over the last century. But widespread overuse accelerates the loss of their effectiveness. (4, 7).

Kellogg Schwab, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Water and Health, says in no uncertain terms: "This development of drug resistance scares the he - -  out of me." (8)

Bacteria: The Good, the Bad and the Resistant

We wouldn't want to live in a sterile world. Many species and strains of bacteria sharing our natural ecosystem provide benefits, such as those lining our mucus membranes and gut that help boost our immunity and protect us from disease. (9) We can thank bacteria for creamy yogurt, sharp cheese and tangy sauerkraut, too.

However, strains of some bacteria: Salmonella, E. coli, Campylobacter and Staphylococcus, for example, can cause life-threatening disease. In order to kill the "bad" bacteria, we need working antibiotics.

Unfortunately, Americans' general fear of bacteria, has led us to engage in a full-fledged "war" against the microbial world. (9, 10)

When confronted with antimicrobial agents, bacteria fight back. They naturally have the ability to mutate and evolve to develop resistance to the drugs we use to kill them. Worse, they can pass along resistance to successive generations and even share resistance with unrelated bacteria. (3, 8)

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