The Scary Danger of Meat (Even For Those Who Don't Eat It)
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So far, 2012 is bringing bad news for people who don't want "free antibiotics" in their food.
Antibiotics are routinely given to livestock on factory farms to make them gain weight with less feed and keep them from getting sick in confinement conditions. But the daily dosing, at the same time it lowers feed needs, lowers drug effectiveness and produces antibiotic resistant bacteria or super bugs that can be deadly to people.
This month, researchers found 230 out of 395 pork cuts bought in US stores were contaminated with a super bug called MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus). Worse--there were "no statistically significant differences" between "conventionally raised swine and swine raised without antibiotics," reported the researchers.
Why would meat labeled "raised without antibiotics" be as full of super bugs as conventional and factory farmed meat? It can be contaminated with MRSA at the farm, by slaughterhouse workers who carry MRSA or by other meat, if processing equipment is not "cleaned out between runs of certified organic and non-certified organic meats," say the researchers. A 2009 study of swine workers in Iowa and Illinois found that almost half carried MRSA.
And last month, the FDA scrapped its three-decade-long effort to regulate the use of the popular human antibiotics penicillin and tetracycline in livestock. While the FDA says in the announcement that it "remains concerned about the issue of antimicrobial resistance," it also says "contested, formal withdrawal proceedings" consume too much of its time and money. For example, withdrawing nitrofurans from livestock use took 20 years, DES (diethylstilbestrol) took seven years and enrofloxacin took five years and cost $3.3 million, says the agency. Hey, we're just the government that makes the laws and enforces them. They're Big Meat!
Cynics might have seen the concession to Big Meat coming when a report from a USDA-contracted researcher that asserted that MRSA kills more Americans per year than AIDS "disappeared" from the National Agricultural Library Web site last summer with no explanation, says reporter Tom Philpott. Of course, MRSA is only one antibiotic-resistant germ and not even the one clinicians fear the most anymore. Clinicians also worry about vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE), encouraged by the use of the antibiotic virginiamycin in livestock; Clostridium difficile, a serious intestinal bug developing resistance; and resistant Acinetobacter baumannii which has so afflicted US troops in Iraq it has been dubbed "Iraqibacter."
And days after the penicillin announcement, there was another concession. The FDA issued new, watered down rules on the use of cephalosporins in livestock (a different type of antibiotic) after Big Meat muscled down the FDA's original order to prohibit cephalosporins in 2008 (which also disappeared with little explanation). Cephalosporins are antibiotics like Cefzil and Keflex used for pneumonia, strep throat, salmonella and skin and urinary tract infections in humans and one type of antibiotic that Clostridium difficile is developing tolerance to. Over a million human salmonella infections occur in the US every year, resulting in 16,000 people being hospitalized and nearly 600 deaths, reported the Harford Advocate.
In 2008, the FDA announced that there was "evidence that extralabel use of these drugs [cephalosporins] in food-producing animals will likely cause an adverse event in humans and, as such, presents a risk to the public health," and called for their prohibition. Notice the FDA says "will likely cause" not " could likely cause" and "presents a risk" not " could present a risk"?
But by the time hearings were held two months later and lobbyists had worked their magic, the "Cephalosporin Order of Prohibition," had somehow become a " Hearing to Review the Advances in Animal Health Within the Livestock Industry." Prohibition--advances, same idea, right?