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There’s An 81% Chance That Turkey Burger Is Packed With Drug-Resistant Bacteria

April 17, 2013

How about a side of superbugs with that?Here’s a story you’d probably like to know about:

87 percent of supermarket meat — including beef, pork, chicken, and turkey products — tests positive for normal and antibiotic-resistant forms of Enterococcus bacteria. Fifty percent of ground turkey contains resistant E. coli, 10 percent of chicken parts and ground turkey tests positive for resistant salmonella, and 26 percent of chicken parts come contaminated with resistant campylobacter. (Grist.com – emphasis mine)

The government released this information in February. So why are we just learning these astounding numbers now? The results of supermarket testing for contamination was buried deep in the FDA’s 2011 Retail Meat Report. It took additional analysis and calculations on the part of the Environmental Working Group (EWG) to uncover just how terrifying the data truly is. We’re not just talking about bacterial contamination, we’re talking about antibiotic-resistant bacteria found in:

Scary, isn't it?

We’ve all been warned about the over-use of  antibiotics and how that can lead to drug-resistant “superbugs” like those increasingly showing up in our nation’s hospitals, but it’s not just the use of antibiotics in people with which we need to be concerned. In fact,  the use of antibiotics in livestock is a booming business for the pharmaceutical industry, with 29.9 million pounds sold for agricultural use in 2011, compared to just 7.7 million for human use.

Antibiotics, the lifesaving drugs that treat bacterial infections, came into widespread use after World War II, laying the groundwork for modern medicine.

Along the way, livestock producers discovered that giving antibiotics to healthy pigs and chickens made them gain weight faster. Yet now scientists know that feeding antibiotics to healthy animals over time, especially in low doses, kills weak bacteria, allowing strains that can withstand the drugs to evolve and become dominant.

Bacteria that develop resistance to one antibiotic can often tolerate another, or several others. They can pass this trait not only to their offspring but to other microbes of different species.

Industrial-scale animal production is an ideal climate for breeding superbugs. It offers an environment in which bacteria can develop antibiotic resistance and spread it via human workers, animals, water, soil and air. Superbugs can travel on meat to stores – and into kitchens, where food safety missteps can make people sick.

And being a vegetarian doesn’t make you safe, either. Run-off from these large factory farms cross-contaminates produce and seeps into our groundwater.

Unfortunately, our food system gets very little scrutiny from the American public. We generally assume our food to be safe, even given increasingly common food recalls and outbreaks. Our media spends more time reporting on this week’s latest report on whether red meat/eggs/wine/carbs is good or bad for you, with very little emphasis on basic food safety issues. Reports like the one from EWG deserve a wider audience. Please take a few minutes to give it a read and pass it along. We should all be alarmed.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. April 19, 2013 5:38 pm

    Dammit, I LOVE turkey burgers. Can I kill the bacteria if I cook it long enough?

  2. April 19, 2013 5:22 pm

    Reblogged this on Shouts from the Abyss and commented:
    For reasons that are patently and offensively obvious this is my pick for the blog you should click. It’s the Post Of The Week. I’ll meat you there! #POTW

  3. April 17, 2013 3:49 pm

    What a lovely after dinner read…lol. Seriously though we have to address our food, factory farming and big ag. are causing so many health issues in this country. I will share this well written piece, keep up the great writing.

  4. healthiestbeauty permalink
    April 17, 2013 1:44 pm

    Reblogged this on The healthiest beauty.

  5. Larry Thorson permalink
    April 17, 2013 11:35 am

    And how much is already in our bodies? Couple years ago I had a nasty sore on my legvthat put me in the hospital for two days. I asked the doc where I could have picked it up and he said it was probably on my skin all along.

    Larry Thorson 305-331-9938 @LarryThorson Curating national security topics for Progressive Congress News @PCNNatSec on Twitter

  6. April 17, 2013 10:57 am

    The stats are interesting and scary but how do they correlate to illness rates reported in our hospitals? One would think if things were as bad as the stats indicate, we would see crisis levels of illness in the country — are these not being reported?

    Something about this seems alarmist and a bit out of whack. I’d like to see more data on the visible ramifications of this in public health.

    • April 17, 2013 11:03 am

      It’s very much a looming crisis. What happens is that drug choices to treat infection become increasingly limited, and in some cases non-existent. (Take, for instance, the deadly CRE infections growing in number across the country.) To make matters worse, there is very little movement in the production of new antibiotics to replace those that quickly becoming ineffective due to overuse. It really is a big deal.

  7. April 17, 2013 10:21 am

    Thank you for your excellent reporting, and that’s no bull! 🙂

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