As I have written here a time or two [Meat Industry: Have MRSA on Us; USDA Gets Bad News on Superbugs: Shoots Messenger; and most recently, Microbes Winning War on Terra] the meat industry has for years, as a matter of course, been selling tainted meat. In the face of widespread coverage in the media (I’m kidding!) the industry has doubled down, and the situation is now much worse (I’m not kidding!). It may now fairly be said not only that most meat offered for sale in American supermarkets is contaminated with infectious bacteria, but that most is infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.
The latest, stunning round of government tests was published and immediately stored on high shelves three months ago. To be fair, the US Food and Drug Administration put the news up on its website for anyone to read, right there under the riveting headline: FDA Announces Availability of the 2011 NARMS Retail Meat Annual Report. I don’t know how I missed that. Not until the Environmental Working Group did the work of finding them, reading the fine print and putting them together did any significant number of people find out that tests of raw meat taken from supermarket shelves in 2011 found antibiotic-resistant bacteria in:
- 81% of ground turkey;
- 69% of pork chops;
- 55% of ground beef; and
- 39% of chicken.
Just a few minutes spent with the report, or even stories about the report, will soon have you swooning among percentages of percentages of samples of samples. But here’s what you need to take home: the meat you take home is a biohazard that can make you sick if you touch it, let alone eat it, before it is heated to 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
That’s been true for a long time. What is now also true is that if you join the 3.6 million people who will contract a foodborne illness this year, chances are very good that your illness will not respond to antibiotics.
The meat industry created this problem. They feed 30 million pounds of antibiotics every year to their animals and poultry in order to prevent their getting too sick to slaughter. Meanwhile, the amount of antibiotics given to people who are actually sick totals about seven million pounds a year. The crowded, hot and humid feedlots provide an ideal spawning ground for the mutant bacteria, always present, that are accidentally immune to antibiotics.
Perhaps the most astonishing part of this story is the utter lack of pushback from people who are being sold poison in their foodstores. Talk about the silence of the lambs.
[UPDATE 05/02/13 -- The June edition of Consumer Reports magazine reports on an in-house investigation that confirmed that ground turkey is a biohazard: 90 per cent of the samples they tested had at least one of the five infectious bacteria for which they tested, and all of the bacteria were resistant to antibiotics. ]