Dying bees and antibiotic-resistant bacteria: Common roots?
In case you missed it over at the New York Times Magazine, check out Michael Pollans’ “Our Decrepit Food Factories,” a brief, alarming look at the roots of two troubling trends: the die-off of bee colonies around the country, and the spread of anti-biotic resistant bacteria (known as MRSA for its scientific name) out hospital rooms into public spaces. Pollan’s sharp essay focuses on two stunning details, each suggesting that industrialized food processing are the cause of these problems.
In the meat industry, Pollans explores research showing that intense use of antibiotics has led to an explosion in the incidence of, surprise, antibiotic resistant MRSA strains in beef and pork operations. Some of these hardy, deadly bacterial colonies may persist and escape into the wider environment, potentially explaining a spike in MRSA infections and deaths outside of hospitals, such as playgrounds. For the public, the health implications are grim. For the meat industry, the financial implications must worrisome: the connection between infectious bacterial deaths and antibiotics is a potentially financially disastrous specter.
In another surprising point, Pollans explains the annual importation of millions of bee hives every spring to pollinate California’s central valley almond farms. So profitable are these operations, so high is the need for pollinators, that farmers are willing to pay for bees to be flown in from Australia. In this setting, bee diseases can spread at unprecedented rates. Prior to this global gathering, pathogens may have never have moved beyond a small region. In both cases, highly concentrated industrial cultivation of these animals seems to be biting back, hurting both the animals and their human consumers.