Nearly Half of U.S. Meat Tainted With Drug-Resistant Bacteria

MeatDrug-resistant bacteria may be lurking in your grocery meat aisle. A study found that Staphylococcus aureus, the bacteria that causes most staph infections, was present in meat and poultry from U.S. grocery stores at "unexpectedly high rates."

Researchers found nearly half of the meat and poultry samples were contaminated. What’s more, over half of those bacteria were resistant to at least three classes of antibiotics.

According to the New York Post:

“For the study, researchers looked at 136 samples involving 80 brands of beef, chicken, pork and turkey from 26 grocery stores ... According to the findings ... industrial farms, where food animals are steadily fed low doses of antibiotics, ‘are ideal breeding grounds for drug-resistant bacteria that move from animals to humans.’”

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

If you're still buying meat from your local grocery store, you have a 50/50 chance of choosing meat that's tainted with drug-resistant bacteria every time you shop. This staggering, and quite disgusting finding comes from a study by the Translational Genomics Research Institute, which revealed 47 percent of the meat and poultry samples they tested contained antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria.

These were samples from 80 brands of beef, chicken, pork and turkey from more than two dozen grocery stores scattered across the United States, in large cities from Los Angeles to Washington D.C. So it likely applies to a grocery store near you …

Can You Get Staph Infections From Meat?

Staphylococcus aureus is the bacteria that causes most staph infections. Typically, staph bacteria are relatively harmless and up to 30 percent of people carry staph bacteria in their nose without it causing an infection. If the bacteria enters your body through a cut, it may cause an infection (staph bacteria is one of the most common causes of skin infections in the United States) but even these are typically mild and can be easily treated.

Unlike typical staph bacteria, antibiotic-resistant staph bacteria, like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), is a serious and growing public health problem, one that is getting progressively worse and actually exacts a greater death toll than "modern plagues" like AIDS.

MRSA is much more dangerous because it has become resistant to the broad-spectrum antibiotics commonly used to treat it, such as methicillin, oxacillin, penicillin and amoxicillin. In the meat study, researchers actually detected Staph bacteria that are resistant to up to nine different antibiotics.

Worst still, this "super bug" is constantly adapting, meaning it is capable of outsmarting even new antibiotics that come on the market.

Because antibiotic-resistant bacteria like MRSA can be so difficult to treat, it can easily progress from a superficial skin infection to a life-threatening infection in your bones, joints, bloodstream, heart valves, lungs, or surgical wounds.

So can you get MRSA or another staph infection from eating meat?

Staph bacteria are killed with cooking, but if you eat your meat very rare, which is actually far healthier than eating it well-done if you buy high-quality meat, you run the risk of being infected. Likewise, it's possible to be infected with Staph while handling contaminated meat, or through cross-contamination in your kitchen.

Antibiotic-Resistant Bugs in Your Meat is a Very Bad Sign …

The fact that antibiotic-resistant superbugs are found so widely in U.S. meat supplies is a major red flag; a sign that we are nearing the point of no return where superbugs will continue to flourish with very little we can do to stop them.

While I am not one to recommend many medications, antibiotics can be VERY useful when you need to treat a bacterial infection. When used properly, in the correct contexts and with responsibility, antibiotics can and do save lives that are threatened by bacterial infections. But they will only remain effective if urgent changes are made to curb the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and disease… and this will only happen with a serious reduction in their use now.

Do You Know Who Uses the Most Antibiotics in the United States?

Farmers, and more specifically, farmers that run Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported that industrial farms used a whopping 29 million pounds of antibiotics in 2009 alone.

Where are all of these antibiotics going?

As much as 70 percent of all antibiotics sold in the United States are bought by farmers to feed to chickens, cattle and hogs -- not to treat disease but to make them grow faster. This increases profit margins for livestock producers, but it puts YOUR health at risk.

Food animals are fed low doses of antibiotics steadily, killing off some of the animals' bacteria. This allows the stronger, more resistant bacteria to survive, multiply, and pass on their strength and resistance to future generations.

A report by the Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that 70 percent of antibiotics used in this country are given to animals for growth promotion and other non-medical uses. And when all agricultural uses were considered, they estimated the share could be as high as 84 percent! This massive antibiotic overuse is largely responsible for the potent strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria we are seeing today.

As the New York Post reported, the Translational Genomics Research Institute researchers noted that CAFOs, where the practice of giving food animals a constant supply of low-dose antibiotics is routine, "are ideal breeding grounds for drug-resistant bacteria that move from animals to humans."

On these industrial farms, resistant bacteria are incredibly common. According to a 2009 University of Iowa study, 70 percent of hogs and 64 percent of workers in industrial animal confinements tested positive for MRSA. The study pointed out that once MRSA is introduced, it could spread broadly to other swine and their caretakers, as well as to their families and friends.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the various MRSA strains can be transmitted from humans to animals and vice versa, putting the health of both humans and animals (including pets) at ever increasing risk.

Will Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Soon be in Your Produce, Too?

Antibiotics are not only embedded in your meats, they have made their way into your produce as well. Antibiotics are transferred, via the manure used as fertilizer, into your corn, lettuce, potatoes, and other crops.

Even eating organically may not entirely alleviate this problem, since organic crops, which cannot be fertilized with synthetic fertilizers, are the ones most often fertilized with manure. As it stands, manure that contains antibiotics is still allowed under the organic label.

So it all depends on where organic farmers get their manure from. Some organic crop farmers may be getting their manure from organic cattle farms, but there's no guarantee that's taking place.

Other Countries are Taking Steps to Keep Superbugs OUT of Their Meat …

The U.S. meat industry is extremely resistant to the idea of cutting back on antibiotics use, and I don't think we'll see any major change in this area unless laws are enacted to curtail its use.

But in other countries, like Denmark, changes are already taking place. In Denmark, farmers use antibiotics sparingly -- only when animals are sick. And after the ban on antibiotics took place, a Danish study confirmed that it had drastically reduced antibiotic-resistant bacteria in animals and food.

Australia also confirmed that after its ban on fluoroquinolones in all food animals, only 2 percent of Australian patients tested positive for the drug-resistant strain of Campylobacter jejuni (a leading bacterial cause of food-borne illness that has exhibited drug-resistant strains), whereas the prevalence of drug resistance can be as high as 29 percent in countries that allow the use of fluoroquinolone.

And, according to a 2006 study published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, bacteria from conventional chicken, and people who ate the chicken, became resistant to Synercid (a strong antibiotic used to treat antibiotic-resistant bacteria) more often than the bacteria found in antibiotic-free chicken, or in vegetarians.

In fact, the study found it was rare to find drug-resistant bacteria among antibiotic-free chicken, while the majority of bacterial isolates from conventional poultry were resistant -- and the researchers indicated that the use of antibiotics in poultry (in this case the antibiotics were used to promote growth) may harm humans' health in the long-term.

Another Reason to Choose Your Meat Wisely

Given the range of bacteria, drugs and hormones in the conventional U.S. meat supply, some of my readers have criticized my recommendations to continue eating meats. But you must remember that I ONLY recommend organic, grass-fed, free-range meats, which really cannot be compared to conventionally farmed meats in terms of quality and nutritional content.

Any time I discuss meat consumption, read with the explicit understanding that I only promote humanely raised, organically farmed livestock that have roamed free, feeding on their natural food source, without any use of antibiotics and other growth-promoting drugs typically used in conventional farming.

So how can you ensure that the meat you feed yourself and your family is pure and healthy?

Apart from growing it yourself, your best option is to get to know a local farmer -- one who uses non-toxic farming methods. If you live in an urban area, there are increasing numbers of community-supported agriculture programs available that offer access to healthy, locally grown foods even if you live in the heart of the city.

Being able to find high-quality meat is such an important issue for me personally that I've made connections with sources I know provide high-quality organic grass-fed beef and bison, free-range chicken and ostrich, all of which you can find in my online store. The farms our supplier uses have 3 USDA inspectors on hand that regularly inspect the packaging facility.  Additionally, all of the cattle are grass-fed on open pastures, and E. coli 0157 testing is performed daily.

But you can eliminate the shipping charges if you find a trusted farmer right in your area.

If you live in the U.S., the Weston Price Foundation has chapters all over the world and many of them are connected with buying clubs in which you can easily purchase these types of foods, including raw milk, locally. It is an amazing resource and I have successfully used them when I stayed in South Florida this winter.