The Monsanto-esqe Politics of Antibiotics


The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) published a 114-page document in April 2013 about the threat of antibiotic resistance.

The report warns of catastrophic consequences of “inaction” on the issue of antibiotic resistance, then moves on to define four “core aggressive actions”:

  1. preventing infections and preventing the spread of resistance by washing hands and avoiding infections in the first place.
  2. tracking resistant bacteria to gather data.
  3. improving the use of today’s antibiotics by always using them appropriately and safely.
  4. promoting the development of new antibiotics and developing new diagnostic tests for resistant bacteria

Based on these four core actions, it’s clear the CDC either doesn’t care about the problem, or needed to keep some college interns in the ranks busy for a few months.

My personal favorite is the first recommendation. Don’t get sick in the first place! Wash your hands; prepare food safely.

Personally, I’d not be able to keep a straight face writing a report for the top health agency in the land recommending don’t get sick in the first place! I mean, such material is great for the Onion, but not from an agency which controls the societal rules we live by.

Prepare food safely? Look, I’ve witnessed cooks sneeze into their hand towel and move right on cooking. I’ve witnessed members of my own family pick their nose while preparing food and think nothing of it. Dear CDC, good luck financing a national campaign to convince everyone to change their ways.

The CDC’s second recommendation, tracking antibiotic-resistant infections, actually makes decent sense. With good data, smart people can recognize patterns and make intelligent decisions to solve complex problems. In reality, however, it will take years to gather data and it will be very incomplete because accurate reporting at the human sub-cellular level just doesn’t exist.

The CDC’s third and fourth recommendations are plain schizophrenic. We need to use far fewer antibiotics, and develop far more of them.

I suspect the entire 114-page report is a smokescreen for industry, featuring a stout scare-pitch with cozy lead-up to the fourth recommendation: developing more antibiotics. Big business wants government money to develop new Pharma products; there’s less risk to shareholders if the government pays for development, and corporate leaders patent and sell the end product. In most cases I’m a big Mariana Mazzucato fan and support government funded R&D. But not when it’s Too Sick to Fail (TSTF).

On page 50, the CDC slips us a disingenuous Mickey. They isolate the most urgent antibiotic-resistant threat as clostridium difficile (C. diff). C. diff causes 250,000 infections per year and 14,000 deaths.

The basic argument in this report is, “C. difficile is really bad and it’s killing a lot of us every year so we need to develop newer, stronger antibiotics.”

Since antibiotic-resistant C. diff infections are caused by use of antibiotics, this is akin to Monsanto introducing Roundup-resistant seeds and recommending heavier use of Roundup. And, in 10 years, everyone being surprised when Roundup-resistant weeds have taken over, starting an arms race for ever-more powerful pesticides.

Meanwhile, unemployed people who could pick weeds are at home eating pesticide-laden food that will lead to infections requiring antibiotics.

Really; if antibiotics are already causing 14,000 deaths per year, how many deaths will they cause when we make them stronger?

We are going wildly out of balance, and we’re doubling-down on what’s not working. Even worse, our top government health agency has been captured by industry, so we’re about to use more tax dollars to push forward with new harms to our health.

What’s the solution? It’s easy. Go with benelles. Stop worrying about who has or hasn’t washed their hands. Instead, stop poisoning our food supply with ultra-pesticides. And stop pushing for chemotherapy-grade antibiotics.

What’s the safe treatment for a C. diff infection? A fecal transplant; a benelles-friendly solution.

Yeah. That’s way too aboriginal and witchdoctory for us, so instead we switch to a stronger class of antibiotics, causing a larger C. diff bloom and greater levels of microbial resistance.

Whoever wrote this CDC report has a job waiting for them at Monsanto as soon as they like. The whole approach is excessively pro-chemical and short-term. It’s TSTF, and as a result, it’s going to succeed wildly.

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