Superbugs bugging you?

The news this week was often about bacteria, those tiny living microorganic inhabitants of the earth and our bodies which outnumber all the humans, animals and plants on the planet put together. There are 10 times more bacteria cells in the human flora (on our skin and in our gut, for instance) at any given moment than there are actual cells in the human body. We couldn't live without them, actually. This has lead some scientists to joke that we are 90% bacteria or that human beings evolved only for the purpose of hosting the real master inhabitants of the planet, our tiny little buddies that we carry around everywhere with us. Scientists, right? Sheesh.

But sometimes our little buddies turn against us, "going rogue" in Palinese, and our bodies become a battleground, a kind of "Lilliput in Gulliver" situation. This has happened in Germany this week with devastating effects, all humour aside. A new hybrid strand of E .coli has emerged, killing 18 people and sickening over 1700, with more than 500 suffering kidney damage. So far, they don't even know where it's coming from, which is scary for those in Europe. 

In a place near Europe, but so far sticking with their Sterling Pounds, thank-you very much, there is another form of rebellious bacteria which is causing a lot of concern. I'm speaking of England, of course, and the bacteria in question is a new form of MRSA, the antibiotic-resistant superbug so feared by hospitals. This new strain has been found on cows' udders, in their bodies and, not surprisingly, in humans. They say there is no risk to humans drinking cow's milk because of the pasteurization it undergoes (unless you're a raw milk enthusiast, I guess) and the meat should be safe if you cook it properly and you don't touch the raw meat and then rub your eye or pick up your child's toy or forget to wipe off the part of the sink or counter it touched or any number of the myriad ways we move our little buddies around in the world. 

How did these little guys get so good at avoiding all our powerful antibiotics? Many people are now starting to point the finger at factory farms, the intensive animal feeding and confinement systems which make up for unsanitary and overcrowded conditions by the routine use of antibiotics. Instead of waiting for animals to become ill and then treat them with antibiotics, the agribusiness executives assume that animals will become sick in the unnatural environment, so they give them daily antibiotics so they can meet the amped-up growth targets in the shortest time span possible. Fully 70% of the antibiotics sold in North America today are given to farmed animals. With this kind of daily exposure to each other, bacteria evolves and antibiotics don't. And when these superbugs get into our food supply and then find their way into humans, which they always do, we find that our best medicines no longer work.

One of the many great reasons why some self-restraint and reduction in consumption is the best way we can make a difference. Which is why I am including another 100% meat-free recipe for this meat-free Monday (it is still Monday, isn't it?). Thank-you for making a difference.