FDA Finds Alarming Levels Of Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria On Meat
April 17, 2013

Most Meat Crawling With Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria, Says FDA

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

According to a new report from the Food and Drug Administration, shoppers who purchase meat may be getting more than they bargained for.

In the newly released National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS) Retail Meat Annual Report, federal officials said their tests of retail meat revealed high levels of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

According to the report, 87 percent of the meat the researchers tested contained either normal or antibiotic-resistant enterococcus, a genus of lactic acid bacteria that closely resemble streptococci bacteria in physical appearance.

Tests on chicken breasts, wings and thighs found that 9 percent of the samples carried a strain of antibiotic-resistant salmonella while another 26 percent were contaminated with antibiotic-resistant campylobacter. The report also found that 81 percent of ground turkey, 69 percent of pork chops, and 55 percent of ground beef contained antibiotic-resistant bacteria of some variety.

Experts have long said that the practice of giving preventative doses of antibiotic to animals is contributing to the emergence of bacteria that cannot be controlled with traditional antibiotics.

"Antibiotic use in animals is out of hand," Gail Hansen, a senior officer for the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming, told CNN. "We feed antibiotics to sick animals, which is completely appropriate, but we also put antibiotics in their feed and in their water to help them grow faster and to compensate for unhygienic conditions.”

“If you have to keep the animals healthy with drugs, I would argue you need to re-examine the system,” she added. “You don't take antibiotics preventively when you go out into the world."

Others echo this recommendation for a more judicious use of antibiotics.

"We need to end usage for growth promotion and feed efficiency and think about what we are doing for the long term," said Dawn Undurraga, a nutritionist who works with the Environmental Working Group, an environmental advocacy organization. "We also need more data."

The FDA has recommended that the use of "medically important antimicrobial drugs" in livestock be restricted to situations where they are used to keep animals healthy under veterinary supervision, according to FDA spokesman Jalil Isa.

"The FDA believes that these drugs are important for the prevention, control and treatment of disease in animals,” he said in a statement to CNN. “It is the nonjudicious use — for growth promotion and feed efficiency — that concerns FDA."

In response to the study, the American Meat Institute issued a statement that cited a decline in the bacteria found on meat and poultry products.

"The industry's shift away from the use of antibiotics for growth promotion at the request of the (FDA) last year should provide further reassurance that we are committed to meeting government and customer expectations and to producing meat and poultry products that are as safe as we can make them," said spokeswoman Janet Riley.

To prevent contracting an illness from any type of bacteria, the USDA has a series of guidelines for handling and preparing meat. The guidelines say that thorough cooking kills bacteria, and that washing hands and surfaces can prevent the spread of dangerous microorganisms.

"My husband teases me that I'm too vigilant when I buy turkey and put it in a plastic bag and put it on the bottom shelf of the grocery cart, away from everything else," Undurraga said. "I think you can't be too careful.”