Rising Resistance: New Film Explores Superbug Spread As Health Concerns Grow

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A new documentary aims to address an issue that "affects millions of people around the world and impacts everything from the sustainability of our food supply to the safety of our schools," according to a pitch video posted on Kickstarter (below).

"Resistance" filmmaker Michael Graziano goes on to point out that more people in the U.S. die from antibiotic-resistant infections than die from HIV/AIDS, breast cancer, emphysema, Parkinson's disease and homicides combined.

Based on the latest news, things are only getting worse.

In just the past couple weeks, we've heard about the rise of drug-resistant gonorrhea in the U.S. and the spread of drug-resistant tuberculosis across South Africa.

Also this month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released documents that show the use of antibiotics in livestock continues to increase -- already accounting for four times as much "miracle drug" as prescribed to sick humans. Also on the rise: the likelihood that the chicken or ground turkey you buy at the supermarket carries antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Wired's Maryn McKenna reports:

It's worth noting that this continued antibiotic use, and continued and rising appearance of resistant bacteria on meat, is happening as the FDA has abandoned attempting to regulate livestock producers' use of antibiotics, and has switched to a voluntary approach. Given the trend, I think it's worth asking how well that voluntary approach is going to work.

The government's weak action came up often in my earlier coverage of the topic -- from targeting drugs that play only a minor role in the public health crisis to poor tracking and monitoring of antibiotic use in livestock. Meanwhile, industry representatives consistently told me that the judicious use of antibiotics was key to keeping food animals healthy and that purported use of the drugs to prevent the spread of disease in cramped conditions or to promote growth had been overstated.

That heated battle continues. A letter sent Tuesday to Congress by a number of environmental and medical groups highlights the misuse and overuse of antibiotics in food animal production. The letter arrives just ahead of a Wednesday Senate subcommittee hearing to consider the reauthorization of the Animal Drug User Fee Act (ADUFA), legislation that could limit the unnecessary use of antibiotics in food animals that are not sick. The groups write:

The Director-General of the World Health Organization has warned that we face a "post-antibiotic era ... in effect, an end to modern medicine as we know it" and that "[t]hings as common as strep throat or a child's scratched knee could once again kill."

As McKenna writes, the new film's pitch "captures a frustration" she has felt herself: "the topic is so big, the threat is so staggering, that you're lost for a way to express it without sounding over-the-top."

It's worth a watch.