“Facing a surge in drug-resistant infections, the World Health Organization issued a plea to farmers two years ago: “Stop using antibiotics in healthy animals.”
But at last year’s big swine industry trade show, the World Pork Expo in Des Moines, one of the largest manufacturers of drugs for livestock was pushing the opposite message.
“Don’t wait for Pig Zero,” warned a poster featuring a giant picture of a pig peeking through an enormous blue zero, at a booth run by the drugmaker Elanco.
The company’s Pig Zero brochures encouraged farmers to give antibiotics to every pig in their herds rather than waiting to treat a disease outbreak caused by an unknown Patient Zero. It was an appealing pitch for industrial farms, where crowded, germ-prone conditions have led to increasing reliance on drug interventions. The pamphlets also detailed how feeding pigs a daily regimen of two antibiotics would make them fatter and, as any farmer understands, a heavier pig is a more profitable pig.
This is a HUGE problem. We will soon be exiting the antibiotic age, and will be back to the same place humans have been most of our existence-completely at the mercy and randomness of not catching a bacterial infection. We have developed one of the most remarkable life-saving advances in human history-antibiotic drugs, and through greed and recklessness have squandered this advantage. Our children will look back on this and curse our collective actions.