An analysis by the Environmental Working Group has found that antibiotic-resistant bacteria are common on meat for sale in American supermarkets. A government study published on February 5, 2012 without fanfare found that 81% of ground turkey, 69% of pork chops, 55% of ground beef, and 39% of chicken carried antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
The study, published by the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS), which is a joint project by the FDA, CDC and USDA, found that the meat samples collected in 2011 harbored “significant amounts” of superbug versions of Salmonella and Campylobacter. Those two bacteria cause 3.6 million cases of foodborne illness every year in the United States.
In addition, 53% of raw chicken samples carried an antibiotic-resistant strain of E. coli, the bacteria found in feces. And the antibiotic resistance is growing fast. Of all Salmonella bacteria found on raw chicken in 2011, 74% were antibiotic resistant, compared to less than 50% in 2002.
The analysis states that “a significant contributor to the looming superbug crisis, according to scientists and health experts, is unnecessary antibiotic usage by factory farms that produce most of the 8.9 billion animals raised for food in the U.S. every year. Industrial livestock producers 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.” EWG recommends that consumers treat all meat as if it were contaminated by cooking it thoroughly (especially ground meat) and using safe shopping and kitchen practices. Learn more by reading USDA Fact Sheets on meat preparation.
Indeed, a study conducted by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that in 2011, 29.9 million pounds of antibiotics were sold in the U.S. for meat and poultry production. That is three times greater than the 7.7 million pounds of antibiotics that were sold to treat sick people in this country. And while antibiotic sales to human beings have stayed stable over the past 10 years, the antibiotic sales for meat and poultry production grew from 21 million pounds to 29.9 million pounds from 2001 to 2011.
For more information, see the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming. You can also see EWG’s Tips to Help You Avoid Superbugs in Meat.