Not only is eating less (or no) meat an environmentally sound choice, but it may be an overall safer choice for your family as well. According to a new study conducted by The Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) drug-resistant strains of Staphylococcus aureus were found in meat and poultry from U.S. grocery stores at unexpectedly high rates. The nationwide study was based on results from 136 samples of beef, chicken, pork and turkey purchased from grocery stores in Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Flagstaff, Ariz. and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Although 136 samples may seem like a small sample size, there is still cause for alarm. Almost half the samples were contaminated with S. aureus, and of those meat items infected, more than half of the bacteria found was resistant to at least three classes of antibiotics.
More study facts:
- 80 different brands of meat from 26 retail grocery stores in five major cities was tested, which is one reason the results of this study are so alarming. It’s not just one meat company or one state. Meat across the board is likely harboring harmful bacteria.
- DNA testing suggests that a major source of the S. aureus contamination were the farm animals. The report notes that factory farms animals are steadily fed low doses of antibiotics, which is a great way to breed drug-resistant bacteria that move from animals to humans.
- S. aureus can cause minor problems like skin infections, but also life-threatening diseases, such as pneumonia, endocarditis and sepsis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that staph causes roughly 240,000 cases of food poisoning a year.
- MRSA, a drug-resistant superbug that can be fatal, was found in three of the 136 samples. In fact past studies have found MRSA in meat samples too, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) isn’t that concerned. In fact the government, thus far, has never routinely tested meat for staph.
- Staph can be killed with safe and proper cooking techniques, but meat infected with staph can also be spread to humans via improper food handling and cross-contamination.
- If you or your kids are infected with a Staph infection, the best treatment is a course of antibiotics. However Lance B. Price, Ph.D., senior author of the study says, “When Staph are resistant to three, four, five or even nine different antibiotics — like we saw in this study — that leaves physicians few options.”
Price also notes:
“For the first time, we know how much of our meat and poultry is contaminated with antibiotic-resistant Staph, and it is substantial. The fact that drug-resistant S. aureus was so prevalent, and likely came from the food animals themselves, is troubling, and demands attention to how antibiotics are used in food-animal production today.”
The safest and most eco-friendly meat options for your family:
When it comes to a lifestyle that’s safe, healthy and eco-friendly, your overall best options include purchasing meat that’s certified organic or going vegetarian or vegan. Organics and/or a meat-free lifestyle can’t protect your family from all food born illnesses and bacteria, but it can cut your exposure risk. People like to debate the safety of meat, but it’s clear, due to studies like this new one, along with older research, that conventional meat products may result in some serious health risks. Additionally, eating less meat or no meat at all is very eco-friendly. Meat production uses up fossil fuels, contaminates water supplies and soil plus contributes significantly to global warming, among other issues.
- Use the Eat Well Guide if you’d like to find a store that carries sustainably-raised meat.
- To learn more about a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle visit The Vegetarian Resource Group.
- Learn more about meat and the environment.
- Find out how Inhabitots’ writers and editors feed their kids.