Nearly 80 percent of meat samples taken from the nation's leading supermarkets in 2015 contained antibiotic-resistant "superbugs" according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
The group says it looked at federal data on meat samples tested for bacteria by the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System, a federal public health partnership. In all the samples that tested positive, the bacteria were resistant to at least one type of antibiotic. 2015 is the most recent year for which this data is available.
According to the findings, the antibiotic-resistant bacteria were detected on 79 percent of ground turkey, 71 percent of pork chops, 62 percent of ground beef, and 36 percent of chicken breasts, wings, and thighs.
“Consumers need to know about potential contamination of the meat they eat, so they can be vigilant about food safety, especially when cooking for children, pregnant women, older adults or the immune-compromised,” Dawn Undurraga, EWG’s nutritionist and author of the report, said in a statement.
“Bacteria transfer their antibiotic resistance genes to other bacteria they come in contact with in the environment and in the gastrointestinal tract of people and animals, making it very difficult to effectively treat infections,” said Dr. Gail Hansen, a public health consultant and veterinarian.
Antibiotic-resistant bacteria have become an increasingly serious public health threat in recent years. Approximately 80 percent of all antibiotics are given to livestock in part to prevent and treat infections widespread in factory farm settings, but also to promote growth. Animals routinely fed antibiotics reach market weight faster than those raised without them.
But the presence of antibiotics in the food supply has led to the growing number of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that cause more than 23,000 U.S. deaths annually.
The issue has led the World Health Organization to urge world leaders to take measures to reduce antibiotic use in animal feed, warning that without restricting their use, the "post-antibiotic era" is upon us.
“The public shouldn’t have to wait until 100 percent of the bacteria found on meat are untreatable with antibiotics before the FDA takes strong action,” Undurraga said. “Now is the time for the FDA to get medically important antibiotics off factory farms.”