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Acclaimed Journalist Maryn McKenna on “The Greatest Slow-Brewing Health Crisis Of Our Time”

On February 26th, GreenChoice and the Schuster Institute had the pleasure of hosting a fascinating talk with acclaimed journalist Maryn McKenna on the past, present and future of antibiotics. There wasn’t a dull moment as McKenna chronicled the story of antibiotics starting with the miraculous discovery of penicillin in 1928, through the industrial revolution, and finally to the use (and abuse) of antibiotics in modern day agriculture.

The World Health Organization has declared the widespread use of antibiotics in animals, which has fuelled antibiotic resistance, “one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today”. In her speech, McKenna revealed the terrifying ways public health and our safety have been critically compromised by the misuse of antibiotics. At the time these antibiotic “wonder drugs” were first being developed, most scientists failed to predict the health implications they would bring.

However, just as things felt helpless, McKenna ended by sharing the steps big companies such as Perdue and McDonalds are taking towards changing their practices now that antibiotic resistance is hard to ignore.

Below is a collection of excerpts that will make you think, which come from McKenna’s book Big Chicken: The Improbable Story of How Antibiotics Created Modern Farming and Changed the Way the World Eats.

“It is predicted that by 2050, antibiotic resistance will cost the world $100 trillion and will cause a staggering 10 million deaths per year.”

“Nearly two-thirds of the antibiotics that are used for those purposes are compounds that are also used against human illness—which means that when resistance against the farm use of those drugs arises, it undermines the drugs’ usefulness in human medicine as well.

“Today there are about 25,000 U.S. farms raising poultry, almost all operating under contracts with the integrators that survived consolidation: Tyson Foods, Sanderson Farms, Pilgrim’s, and others—altogether, just 35 firms.”

“Chicken is the most popular meat in the industrialized world, soon to become the most-eaten meat worldwide. To change the production of chicken is to change the meat economy of the planet and everything that it affects: land use, water use, waste disposal, resource consumption, the role of labor, concepts of animals’ rights, and the diets of billions of people.”

You can watch Maryn McKenna’s full speech at Brandeis University here