Antibiotics are used in livestock to prevent disease, but large corporate farms feed antibiotics to pigs, chickens, and cows to stimulate growth and save on feed costs, so that healthy cattle and poultry are routinely injected with antibiotics whether they need them or not.
MRSA ST398 is one of a number of superbugs that have emerged in recent years because of the overuse of antibiotics. The more antibiotics are used, the greater the risk the bacteria will develop resistance, and superbugs such as MRSA will evolve.
In recent tests conducted by the Food and Drug Administration, out of all the raw ground turkey they tested, 81% was contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
And according to an annual retail meat report conducted by the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System, or NARMS, antibiotic-resistant bacteria were found in some 69% of pork chops, 55% of ground beef and 39% of chicken.
CNN notes in the meat NARMS tested, scientists found significant amounts of salmonella and Campylobacter — bacteria that cause millions of cases of food poisoning a year.
Of the chicken tested, 53% was tainted with an antibiotic-resistant form of E.coli, the report said. “Certain strains of E.coli can cause urinary tract infections, pneumonia and other illnesses. Antibiotic resistance means if you were to become ill, doctors would have fewer drug options to treat you.”
According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, 29.9 million pounds of antibiotics were sold in 2011 for meat and poultry production, compared with the 7.7 million sold for human use, and that number has been on the rise.
“Antibiotic use in animals is out of hand,” said Dr. Gail Hansen, a veterinarian and senior officer for the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming, a project aimed at phasing out overuse of antibiotics in food production.
“We feed antibiotics to sick animals, which is completely appropriate, but we also put antibiotics in their feed and in their water to help them grow faster and to compensate for unhygienic conditions. If you have to keep the animals healthy with drugs, I would argue you need to re-examine the system. You don’t take antibiotics preventively when you go out into the world.”
CNN points out that the law currently tracks only how many antibiotics are sold, but does not mandate data collection on how many animals are given the drugs or how much. Without that information, it is hard to know where antibiotics are used.
Last year, journalist and author Maryn McKenna reported on the deliberate actions by the FDA to suppress critical information on farm antibiotic use.
The FDA refuses to compel companies to disclose data that would be in the public’s interest related to legislation known as the Animal Drug User Fee Act (ADUFA) 0f 2003.
ADUFA legislation was passed in 2003 as a result of complaints by the veterinary-pharmaceutical industry that approvals of new drugs were taking too long.
The legislation created a “user fee,” charged to the companies, which the FDA used to increase the amount of staff it had available to scrutinize drug approvals and get them passed.
When ADUFA came up for re-authorization for an additional 5 years, via “ADUFA II,” public health and consumer advocacy groups pressed the FDA for manufacturers to annually report sales of veterinary drugs.
McKenna claims it’s because of this additional requirement in ADUFA II that we learned 2 years ago livestock raised in the United States received 28.8 million pounds of antibiotics per year in 2009, and 29.2 million pounds in 2010.
At the time of McKenna’s report, the 2011 numbers had still not been released.