But do consumers really need to be concerned about eating meat they buy at the grocery stores?
The group analyzed 2011 data recently released by the U.S. government and found 81 percent of ground turkey and 55 percent of ground beef sold in supermarkets carried antibiotic-resistant strands of salmonella and Campylobacter. Together these bacteria cause 3.6 million cases of food poisoning a year. More than half of all chicken sampled carried antibiotic-resistant E. coli.
Almost 90 percent of all store bought meat also had signs of normal and resistant Enterococcus faecium – a bacteria that indicates the product came in contact with fecal matter at some point during or after processing.
Even if the idea of a little diarrhea or a urinary tract infection does not faze you (both of which can be caused by E. coli), the problem is that as strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria become more commonplace in our lives, the less we are able to use the drugs to treat common human diseases.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and 11 other government departments including the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health reported in 2012:
Antimicrobial resistance (AR) is not a new phenomenon; however, the current magnitude of the problem and the speed with which new resistance phenotypes have emerged elevates the public health significance of this issue…. Since their discovery, antimicrobials have been used extensively in livestock and poultry for the treatment, control, and/or prevention of animal diseases, as well as for production purposes… The impact of increases in resistant bacteria in food animals on the management of human infections is an ongoing concern as many classes of antimicrobials used in food-producing animals have analogues to human therapeutics and are therefore capable of selecting for similar resistance phenotypes.
What the CDC report did not mention is that many involved in the livestock industry like the American Meat Institute, the International Egg Commission, and the Animal Health Institute (whose membership includes Bayer, Merck, and Mars) reject these concerns. They also hold enormous power over legislators and committee members.
In other words, if we continue to buy these meats, it is likely industry will continue to use antibiotics to raise animals. But by doing so, we will put our own health, and the health of the global population, at risk.
So how to stay away from these contaminated meats?
Yes, you could cook the hell out of your hamburger to keep you and your family safe from contamination.
But you could also eat better raised meat (and less of it).
An estimated 8.9 billion animals a year are raised in confinement where cramped conditions, a lack of exercise (or fresh air), and high stress environment necessitate the use of antibiotics. These animals are also fed “subtherapeutic” doses of the drugs in their feed to promote faster growth and to make them susceptible to the rampant diseases caused by jamming too many animals into one facility.
Alternately, if you purchase organic meats or those raised without antibiotics, bacteria has not had the exposure to the drugs to develop resistance. Less cramped conditions also mean less disease, and processing only a few animals at a time allows for more care and less contamination of meats. Several stores, like Whole Foods, have a great selection of meats raised without any antibiotics. (See this infographic and post for more information on where to buy meats raised without antibiotics.)
Or, you could stop eating meat.