Staph and MRSA bacteria have been found in meat products and on livestock farms, where they pose a direct infection threat to anyone handling or eating contaminated meat. But there’s a another infection threat found in most meat that makes Staph and MRSA harder to treat. This indirect threat has nothing to do with Staph or MRSA bacteria but rather with the drugs fed to livestock to make them grow faster.
Factory farms have long used antibiotics as growth promoters, spiking the drugs into the feed of otherwise healthy animals with no signs of infection. The crowded, dirty and unhealthy living conditions in factory farms, combined with low doses of antibiotics, creates the perfect breeding ground for new antibiotic resistant bacteria. While those resistant bacteria certainly pose a risk in themselves, the antibiotics pose another level of superbug threat to people how eat the meat. When you eat meat raised on antibiotics, small amounts of those drugs make it into your body. This can allow bacteria inside your body to become resistant to the drugs too.
Rather than posing a direct infection risk, feeding antibiotic growth promoters to livestock helps bacterial to become smarter and harder to kill. So when someone does become infected, chances are higher that antibiotics won’t stop the infection.
FDA gives lip service but little protection
Fortunately, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has put a spotlight on the problem in their sweeping report about antibiotic resistance treats last Fall. Just a few months later, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a guidance to put pressure on the livestock industry to reduce the use of antibiotics for non-medical reasons and curb the tide of superbugs on farms.
Unfortunately, the FDA’s guidance to the livestock industry is more of a suggestion than a real mandate. The rules in the guidance are proposed and not being enforced by the FDA. Therefore, the guidance has done nothing to actually curb the risks or protect the public. Even if the guidance does become law, in its present form, it is full of loop holes and is incomplete and may do little to address or solve the problem.
There is a growing body of evidence linking antibiotic feed additives with resistant superbug infections in people. The FDA has also known about this problem for years, though until recently is has been virtually ignored.
How to protect yourself
In the vacuum of protection provided by the FDA, it’s up to individuals to protect themselves. The good news is that you can easily avoid meat products that have been fed antibiotics. You can also take further steps to reduce antibiotic resistance and protect the powerful drugs we so rely on for saving lives.
First, buy all meat products in organic varieties, or at least make sure they say “antibiotic-free” on the label. All organic meats cannot come from animals fed antibiotic growth promoters. The same is true if the words “antibiotic free” are on the label. Not only does organic meat reduce the risk of superbugs, your also be pleased with how much better it tastes.
The second thing you can do is avoid taking antibiotics unless you absolutely have to. Most importantly, never take these drugs for colds, viruses, the flu or ear infections – antibiotics are completely useless for all these kinds of infections. And if you do choose to take antibiotics, increase the chances of the drug working by getting tested to see what’s causing your infection first.
Lastly, it’s always a good ideal to handle and cook meat properly to minimize the direct threat of infection that raw meat can carry. See the links below for more information about how to handle and cook meat and help keep superbugs out of your kitchen.