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High Levels of Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria in U.S. MeatHigh Levels of Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria in U.S. Meat

April 17, 2013

3 Min Read
High Levels of Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria in U.S. Meat

WASHINGTONA new report published by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) reveals high percentages of meat sold at supermarkets nationwide contain high levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. EWGs analysis of data in the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System found store-bought meat tested in 2011 contained antibiotic-resistant bacteria in 81% of raw ground turkey, 69% of raw pork chops, 55% of raw ground beef and 39% of raw chicken parts.

Consumers should be very concerned that antibiotic-resistant bacteria are now common in the meat aisles of most American supermarkets," said EWG nutritionist Dawn Undurraga, the reports principal author. These organisms can cause foodborne illnesses and other infections.  Worse, they spread antibiotic-resistance, which threatens to bring on a post-antibiotic era where important medicines critical to treating people could become ineffective."

EWG researchers found 53% of raw chicken samples were tainted with an antibiotic-resistant form of Escherichia coli. The extent of antibiotic-resistant E. coli on chicken is alarming because bacteria readily share antibiotic-resistance genes. Of all Salmonella microbes found on raw chicken sampled in 2011, 74% were antibiotic-resistant, compared to less than 50% in 2002.

According to the report, a significant contributor to the looming superbug crisis is the unnecessary antibiotic usage by factory farms that produce most of the 8.9 billion animals raised for food in the United States every year. Industrial livestock producers routinely give healthy animals antibiotics to get them to slaughter faster or prevent infection in crowded, stressful and often unsanitary living conditions.

Pharmaceutical makers have powerful financial incentives to encourage abuse of antibiotics in livestock operations. In 2011, they sold nearly 30 million pounds of antibiotics for use on domestic food-producing animals, up 22% over 2005 sales by weight, according to reports complied by the FDA and the Animal Health Institute, an industry group. Today, pharmaceuticals sold for use on food-producing animals amount to nearly 80% of the American antibiotics market.

Slowing the spread of antibiotic resistance will require concerted efforts, not only by the FDA and lawmakers, but by pharmaceutical companies, doctors, veterinarians, livestock producers and big agribusinesses," said Renee Sharp, EWGs director of research. Its time for big agribusiness to exercise the same restraint shown by good doctors and patients: use antibiotics only by prescription for treatment or control of disease."

Efforts by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to address antibiotic abuse in livestock operations consist of only voluntary guidance documentsnot regulations that carry the force of law. EWG takes the position that FDA must take more aggressive steps to keep antibiotic-resistant bacteria from proliferating in the nations meat supply. Livestock producers must not squander the effectiveness of vital medicines.

Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) has introduced the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA), aimed at curbing overuse of antibiotics on farms.

Consumers need protections on the food they eat now," said Craig Cox, EWGs vice president of natural resources and agriculture. And they need a new farm bill that will help producers reduce their use of antibiotics and level the playing field for farmers and ranchers committed to more sustainable ways to raise livestock."

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