A viewpoint article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) online this month reports that antibiotic resistant infections have become “a global crisis.” The article reports that drug-resistant infections cause approximately 23,000 deaths every year in the United States; methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is found in half of isolates from US hospitals; and a deadly bacteria called carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) has mutated from just 1 to 44 different strains within the last 10 years.
Publication of this article coincides with a report released by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). This report describes new attempts to combat antibiotic resistance, including the following: basic science research to better understand mutating bacteria, improvement in diagnostic tools to distinguish between bacterial and nonbacterial illness, development of new antibiotics, and possibilities for new vaccines.
All of these approaches focus on the role of human medicine in the cause and cure of antibiotic-resistant infections. But this approach overlooks the biggest player in antibiotic abuse: factory farms. Almost 4 times as many antibiotics are given to animals in the United States than are given to humans.(1) These antibiotics are used to promote growth of livestock and prevent disease among animals raised in confined and unsanitary conditions.
A report released by federal scientists in February 2013 showed that the majority of meat on supermarket shelves across the United States is contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria.(2) The Environmental Working Group then published an excellent summary and consumer meat-buying guide. The worst offender—ground turkey—contained antibiotic-resistant bacteria in 81% of samples. 87% of all meat samples contained Enterococcus bacteria, which indicates fecal contamination. There is no question about this: factory-farmed meat is DIRTY.
The way this works is simple: antibiotics are unnecessarily given to livestock; bacteria become antibiotic-resistant; bacteria travel from farms to stores; and meat can cause untreatable illness.
Meats that are raised organically and without antibiotics are much less likely to be contaminated by antibiotic-resistant superbugs. If you choose to eat meat, purchasing meats that are sustainably raised will minimize your own exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria and support a system of farming that will help solve the “global crisis” of antibiotic-resistance.
Visit the Environmental Working Group for their indispensible meat-buying guide.
1. Record High Antibiotic Sales for Meat and Poultry Production. The PEW Charitable Trust Web site. http://www.pewhealth.org/other-resource/record-high-antibiotic-sales-for-meat-and-poultry-production-85899449119. Accessed March 27, 2014.
2. FDA Announces Availability of the 2011 NARMS Retail Meat Annual Report. US Food and Drug Administration Web site. http://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/NewsEvents/CVMUpdates/ucm335102.htm. Accessed March 27, 2014.