There’s Something Superbuggy About Most U.S. Meat
After testing samples of ground turkey, pork chops and ground beef collected from supermarkets, federal researchers found that more than half contain antibiotic-resistant forms of bacteria or “superbugs,” including salmonella, E. coli and campylobacter.
Maybe it’s time to take a break from the hamburgers and buffalo wings, if you eat meat?
81 percent of samples of ground turkey found in U.S. supermarkets were found to contain superbugs along with 69 percent of pork chops and 55 percent of ground beef. The meat was specifically tested for the presence of enterococcus bacteria, which can indicate fecal contamination, develops resistance to bacteria and then pass this on to other bacteria. Two species of the bacteria, Enterococcus faecalis and Enterococcus faecium, are the “third-leading cause of infections in the intensive care units of United States hospitals,” according to the New York Times.
Federal researchers also tested chicken breasts, wings and thighs and found that these contained bacteria. 9 percent of the samples were contaminated with a variety of antibiotic-resistant salmonella that resists antibiotics and 26 percent contained antibiotic-resistant campylobacter, which causes an infectious disease.
The data was collected in 2011 by the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System, which is a joint program of the FDA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control. The New York Times also points out that, while the government published the findings in February, it took the appearance of a report entitled Superbugs Invade American Supermarkets by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) to bring more attention to the report.
Antibiotic Use in Factory Farm Animals
In the U.S., most of the 8.9 billion animals destined to become food per year are raised on factory farms. According to the Agriculture Department, 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in the U.S. are for use in animal agriculture, to promote growth, reduce and prevent illness and (ultimately) lower costs. Eating meat from animals given all those antibiotics has led to antibiotic resistance in humans.
Indeed, in China, excessive feeding of antibiotics to animals has led to the creation of drug-resistant bacteria that are lowering the effectiveness of antibiotics not only in animals but in humans around the world.
Some Say the EWG’s Report Is “Misleading”
The EWG’s report was partially underwritten by Applegate, a company selling organic and antibiotic-free meats, the New York Times points out. Academic veterinarians (who themselves work with the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance and also with the International Food Information Council, which is partially funded by major food companies) have said that the EWG’s report on the federal researchers’ findings is “misleading.” Randall Singer, a professor of veterinary science at the University of Minnesota points out that we cannot automatically trace antibiotic resistance in humans to consumption of animal products and that “antibiotics are used to keep animals healthy, period.”
The likes of the CDC have do note that antibiotics have been overprescribed to children; such overuse can also decrease their effectiveness.
It is certainly troubling to know that so many microbes, and many that are resistant to antibiotics, are in our food supply. The federal researchers’ findings present some grounds to consider (if you do in fact eat meat) going meatless. Next week (April 22 -28) is a good time to try this out, as it is Compassion Over Killing’s U.S. Veg Week campaign. Some schools in Connecticut are observing the week by planning to forego meat on their plates.
Knowing that meat from the grocery store contains, well, something else (superbugs) along with the protein can make taking the pork chops out of shopping cart seem like a good idea.
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