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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Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Anna Undebeck
Anna Undebeck2 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Dale O.

Small amounts of organically raised meat is perfectly healthy. If one constantly overindulges by eating far too much of it there will be health problems, especially if it is from factory farms as they use antibiotics and growth hormones and feed animals GMO feed. The correct serving of meat is the size of a deck of cards, not a steak cascading over the plate.

Dale O.

Many omnivores eat meat sparingly and sometimes some have meat free days. One can even have meat for only one meal per day. There are many healthy ways to eat meat if one wishes to include it in the diet at times. If one eats certain veggies raw rather than cooked there will be health problems as well if too much is eaten. Bok Choy eaten raw in excess is one. Many countries ban the use of hormones in meat farming and non-organic American meat is banned in some nations.

Alice Maldonado
Alice Maldonado2 years ago

Major problem with superbugs. Autoimmune diseases are on the rise. I have scleroderma, a rare disease, but I think it is due to a superbug. It started like the flu, then all hell broke loose.

Annmari Lundin
Annmari Lundin2 years ago

Europe may have had a horse meat scandal, but hormone and anti-biotic use is banned. Meat imported to various countries in the EU zone, are regularly tested and any findings of bacteria is published immediately and recalls are ordered. USA should learn a bit from the Old World when it comes to food safety.

Cathleen K.
Cathleen K.2 years ago

Undercooked meat may well kill you. A good steak (NY strip, porterhouse, ribeye, filet mignon) is the only thing safe to eat rare. Cheaper cuts may have been mechanically tenderized, driving bacteria deep inside the meat. Just don't go there.

Ruth R.
Ruth R.2 years ago

Good info ! Good warning!

Leuth Novotny
.2 years ago

question the source of everything entering one's body

Julie H.
Julie H.2 years ago

Sorry about the duplicate posts...not sure why it does that :/