Before the advent of antibiotics if a person developed an infection they either depended on their body to overcome it or they succumbed to it and died. That we have greatly reduced the number of these deaths through dispensing pharmaceuticals is undeniable. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that by allowing pharmaceuticals to do the work that in many cases our own bodies could and should do – by taking a prescription at every drop of a hat – we are lessening our own bodies’ abilities to fight off these infections. And in many cases, the bugs we are fighting with drugs are becoming resistant to them.
As useful as antibiotics are I was surprised to learn that only 20% of them are taken by humans – most of the rest going to animal livestock and the vast majority of those are being fed to our chicken population. What are the effects of this practice which is overseen by the FDA? Well, for about 8 million at-risk women, the news is not good.
The problem is E.coli which has now evolved as a “superbug” – and a chicken is apparently the perfect place for it to grow. Because of the nature of factory farming, even healthy chickens are fed a diet of antibiotics to enable them to survive the unhealthy, overcrowded, (and may I add), inhumane conditions in which they briefly live and die. Many of these chickens receive antibiotics from the time they are in the egg until the time they appear in your local supermarket meat counter. And we are the unwitting “beneficiaries” of this drug therapy – designed not only to overcome disease but to make these animals grow faster and larger.
The specific risk that researchers at McGill University and others have noted is that for at-risk women who consume these chickens there is a significant increase in the number and severity of bladder infections which simply won’t go away.
Naturally, the poultry industry denies any evidence correlating the transfer of E.coli from chickens directly to humans and alleges that the reason this superbug is so drug resistant is because of our own willing overuse of antibiotics. That is a point well-taken.
But is there a rational person who does not believe that if we feed our bodies with sub-standard food, we will get sub-standard and perhaps unexpected outcomes? As the phrase goes, “Garbage in – Garbage out.”
The reason that we avoid eating foods that contain fast acting toxins is because we realize what will happen if we consume them. The difference between consuming a poisonous mushroom and eating a lifetime’s worth of “over-medicated” meat is that we can see the effect the mushroom has on us almost immediately. The evidence takes time to manifest itself when the toxins appear in only small quantities. But they will appear over time.
In 1907 in Minamata, Japan the villagers convinced the Chisso Corporation to build a plant in their fishing village. Chisso manufactured drugs, plastics and perfumes which contained a chemical compound which was known as acetaldehyde. Mercury was a key ingredient in the manufacturing process which began in 1932. The waste from the production lines was dumped into Minamata Bay.
By the mid-1950’s people started developing symptoms of what has become known as “Minamata Disease.” People with this disease exhibited a range of different symptoms which included a degeneration of their central nervous systems. Some had slurred speech and blurred vision. Others experienced numbness in their limbs or in their lips. Others exhibited behaviors which were similar to those that people with Tourette Syndrome display including involuntary body movements and suddenly shouting out words in an uncontrolled manner.
The disease not only affected people but animals as well. There were numerous reports of cats committing suicide by running into the Bay drowning themselves and birds began dropping from the sky.
One of Chisso’s employees, Dr. Hajime Hosokawa said that an “unknown disease of the central nervous system had broken out.” He speculated that the disease was linked to the consumption of fish that the people in Minamata ate – fish that were feeding in the waters into which Chisso poured their waste materials.
The company denied any wrongdoing but a few years later transferred their dumping operations from the bay into the Minamata River. Several months after they began doing this, the people who lived downstream also started exhibiting the same symptoms. It was clear that Chisso was to blame for this and Dr. Hosokawa proved the effects of consuming acetaldehyde to the corporate officers of Chisso. They buried his research and the evidence and continued to proclaim their innocence.
By 1974 the board of physicians of Kumamoto Prefecture had certified 798 victims of the disease with another 3,000 waiting to have their cases evaluated. The pollution of Minamata Bay and Minamata River went on for 36 years and would have continued but that the production method which produced the toxins became obsolete.
Even though many suspected that the fish that they were eating was the cause of their disease, consider the plight of people who had only two choices. The first was to continue to eat tainted food. The second was to starve to death. Fish and rice were the villagers’ only staple food supplies.
We in the United States are more fortunate. Our supermarket shelves are overflowing with food. And we have the FDA to protect us from companies which don’t adhere to their standards. That should make us all feel secure – until we read about superbugs and E.coli.
As powerful as mankind thinks he is, Mother Nature has not exited the stage. She offers us the richness of an incredibly bountiful earth. But she also brings us tempests of wind, fire and flood.
She has loaded the revolver and handed us the pistol. Now it is up to us to see if we pull the trigger.