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The U.N. Just Declared a New Health Crisis That Affects Us All

author image Hillary Eaton
Hillary Eaton is a writer and editor living in Los Angeles whose work has appeared in VICE, Refinery29, LA Weekly and Complex. She loves writing about food, entertainment, travel and style.
The U.N. Just Declared a New Health Crisis That Affects Us All
Antibiotics used in the production of animals for food raise red flags for our health. Photo Credit Nisangha/iStock/Getty Images

The elevation of a health issue to crisis level is something that has only happened four times in the history of the United Nations. This kind of awareness-raising is only reserved for the most staggering issues that face the world.

During their annual general assembly this past week, the U.N. made history by elevating a new, surprising health issue to the level of crisis, alongside Ebola and AIDS — antibiotics in food.

At the meeting, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon explained that the use of antibiotics in food is “a fundamental, long-term threat to human health, sustainable food production and development.”

Since the 1940s, the use of antibiotics have been used to great effect to prevent illness and death from infectious diseases, but its widespread use, especially in our food, has caused the infectious organisms to adapt to the drugs, rendering them less effective and even useless.

The U.N.’s news center outlines the scope of the issue, saying: “According to the World Health Organization, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Organization for Animal Health, the high levels of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) already seen in the world today are the result of overuse and misuse of antibiotics and other antimicrobials in humans, animals (including farmed fish) and crops, as well as the spread of residues of these medicines in soil, crops and water. Within the broader context of AMR, resistance to antibiotics is considered the greatest and most urgent global risk requiring international and national attention.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, these drug-resistant bacteria result in the infection of at least 2 million people a year in the United States alone. Ki-moon echoed these sobering numbers during his address at the assembly, stating that: “More than 200,000 newborn children are estimated to die each year from infections that do not respond to available antibiotics.”

When more than half the world’s antibiotics are used in the production of animals for food, it becomes clear how important it is to keep factory farming and Big Food in check. And organizations like the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) are trying to do just that with their recently released yearly report that looks at the use of antibiotics in fast-food chains.

There have been some moderate improvements in this year’s findings, with companies like Panera, Chick-fil-A and Subway all committed to sourcing safer meats. But, alarmingly, 15 of the top 25 fast-food companies in the world have failed the scorecard, from KFC to Olive Garden and even Starbucks.

The NRDC also notes that while a select amount of fast-food companies are striving to make safer choices when it comes to chicken, little progress has been made with beef and pork. But it’s not just the market’s responsibility to make these changes. The NRDC asserts that real change will ultimately come if and when the FDA sets rules within the industry to prohibit such rampant use of antibiotics in agriculture. And for that, we’re still waiting.

In the meantime, be aware of the origin of the meat products and seafood you are consuming, and choose meats that have been raised without antibiotics to ensure you and your family stay as healthy as possible.

Read more: Scary Video Shows How Quickly Bacteria Becomes Antibiotic Resistant

What Do YOU Think?

How concerned are you about antibiotics in the meat and dairy products you consume? What do you think about the U.N. raising worldwide awareness about this public health concern? Tell us in the comments.

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