Report Finds High Levels of Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria in Meat

A new report released by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) finds an alarming amount of the meat sold in U.S. supermarkets and restaurants contain high levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

The EWG’s analysis is based on findings released by the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System in February. The group says it found antibiotic-resistant bacteria, including salmonella, E. coli and campylobacter in 81 percent of ground turkey, 69 percent of pork chops, 55 percent of ground beef, and 39 percent of raw chicken samples that were purchased in 2011. Other studies have also found levels of MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) in meat.

In a press release, EWG’s nutritionist and lead researcher on the report, Dawn Undurraga urged caution: “Consumers should be very concerned that antibiotic-resistant bacteria are now common in the meat aisles of most American supermarkets. […] These organisms can cause foodborne illnesses and other infections. Worse, they spread antibiotic-resistance, which threatens to bring on a post-antibiotic era where important medicines critical to treating people could become ineffective.”

The report also warns about the increased use of antibiotics in livestock feed in recent years as paralleling a rise in cases of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. According to EWG, in 2002, just 50 percent of salmonella found in raw chicken were antibiotic-resistant, that number has risen to 74 percent in 2011. It’s now commonplace for antibiotics to be part of animal feed, using up 80 percent of the nation’s inventory of antibiotics. Aside from using the antibiotics in therapeutic situations, which makes up a small percentage of cases, the report notes that factory farms “routinely dose their animals with pharmaceuticals, mostly administered with limited veterinary oversight and frequently without prescriptions, to encourage faster growth or prevent infection in crowded, stressful and often unsanitary living conditions.”

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria in our food supply leads to antibiotic-resistant infections in humans. Cases of MRSA are now claiming more lives than HIV/AIDS, and experts fear that the sexually transmitted disease gonorrhea is now virtually untreatable with antibiotics.

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Image: The Delicious Life