S. aureus found in meat and poultry

Staphylococcus aureus has been found in U.S. meat and poultry at alarming rates:

Nearly half of the meat and poultry samples — 47 percent — were contaminated with S. aureus, and more than half of those bacteria — 52 percent — were resistant to at least three classes of antibiotics, according to the study published today in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.

This is the first national assessment of antibiotic resistant S. aureus in the U.S. food supply. And, DNA testing suggests that the food animals themselves were the major source of contamination.

I’m mostly posting this because I’ve recently been working with various bacteria, including S. aureus. One of the biggest problems with them – indeed, with any major and most minor bacteria species – is that they evolve quickly in response to the antibiotics we use against them. This research specifically looked at resistance, and the numbers are surprising. Compounding the issue, there are really only six or so major companies that work to develop antibiotics in the U.S. today. Though our government is a big corporate welfare bitch, our direct government investment in this sort of research is non-existent. That really makes no sense. It is government funding that has long been a huge driving force behind the science of the 20th century, and this is especially true where both lives and profits are at risk – private businesses will always opt to risk the former, not the latter. Given how quickly bacteria evolve to get around antibiotics – resistance has been detected in the very same year the antibiotics have been developed in some cases – it would be good science and our health if we started investing more. A lot more.

That said, there are preventative measures that need to be addressed. First – and we need government again – limit what farmers can give livestock. Of course resistance will evolve if we keep giving cows and chickens antibiotics at such high rate. Second – yep, government again – tighten food-handling protocols in meat markets, including supermarkets. Given the $8 an hour supermarkets pay their employees, I doubt people in that field will give two shits, but every little bit helps (especially before the food gets to that point). And finally – we might not need government to do all of this one – educate the general public, i.e., cook your food at recommended temperatures, wipe down counters, and other basic things civilized people ought to be doing without being told.

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16 Responses

  1. Can you tell us what are the symptoms in the human body that is infected by this virus?

    I’m careful to wash my hands and wipe down the counters but like my steak mediun rare….

  2. Solution=don’t eat meat. Or when you do, make sure it isn’t from a factory farm. Those farms are hideous and disgusting. Most ‘supermarket meat’ comes from huge lots that use antibiotics and hormones. They feed them corn mixed with animal feed(ground up animal product). It is truly horrible. Hummus anyone?

  3. You are forgetting that a lot of the reason they give livestock these antibiotics is because of government, good government.

    Now all of the sudden, the increased oversight that prompted the use of the antibiotics is pushed off on the farmers.

    You can’t have it both ways, I understand what you are saying about antibiotic use, but its hardly the fault of the farms that produce the meat.

    @Jeffage
    The factory farms are better in many cases than the smaller farms. You want to really see disgusting, visit a few of those.

    I don’t suppose you are a “buy local” person are you?

  4. Jeffage got it right. Just don’t eat meat.

  5. Unthinkable, I’d rather get another cat.

  6. I can’t help but shake the feeling that if this had been an unregulated industry, this post would be about how the bacteria is a direct result of the free market and government would already have this problem fixed.

  7. More succinct than I put it.

  8. Paul,

    There’s about a 20% chance you have this bacteria on your skin or in your nose right now. When my class tested itself, we found that roughly 15 out of 60+ students had it. But when the bacteria causes infection, it is usually a localized issue such as an abscess, boil, or even relatively spread blisters. In worse scenarios it can cause serious infections, especially in hospitals where it tends to be resistant to methicillin (see here).

    Nate,

    Farmers largely have a choice in what they give their livestock in terms of antibiotics. The government does not require them to pump healthy animals full of the stuff. Their decision to do so is just a product of good business (not good health); incidentally, antibiotics are also involved in promoting growth, giving farmers all the more reason to invest in it.

    Michael,

    I don’t understand your post. Farmers only face the occasional restriction in what antibiotics they can give their livestock. For all intents and purposes, this issue does deal with an unregulated industry. As a result we are seeing bacteria evolve resistance, thus adversely impacting our meat and poultry supply – not to mention humans who get infections.

    The problem with the relatively low government involvement in producing antibiotics is that by leaving the industry up to a handful of companies, we are seeing fewer and fewer ‘minor’ antibiotics being produced. And by ‘minor’ I mean the antibiotics will only prove useful for a short period. If the profit margin isn’t there, the free market (something I wasn’t aware we suddenly had) isn’t going to care.

  9. All I was saying Michael is getting safe meat to market is largely subject to government rule. One outbreak of this or that and the whole farm gets shut down or there is a big recall.

    It’s government that has given much of the incentive to farmers to use this stuff.

    As far as growth hormones that someone else mentioned, I’m not aware of many studies showing any real difference in the meat produced, so lacking any evidence to the contrary…

    In fact the WTO has ruled against the EU, citing lack of scientific evidence to support their ban of hormoney beef.

  10. First, it’s the consumers who have demanded safe meat. Government is the middle-man who makes sure it happens – the free market never would reach the standards we have. Second, government isn’t demanding that farmers use antibiotics wantonly and in a way that isn’t effective.

    One of the speculated reasons antibiotics increase growth is not because they act as hormones, but because they prevent animals from needing to use their own resources to fight infection and disease.

    http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/science_and_impacts/impacts_industrial_agriculture/prescription-for-trouble.html

  11. Nate, I live in farm country. (Southwest Jersey, believe it or not, is still farms) Yes I buy local. Small farms are more disgusting? Why because the animals roam free in the fields and poop wherever they want rather than in a cage? You crazy, sir.

  12. That’s all I needed to know, thanks.

  13. Okay Michael, what happens when meat is determined to be infected? And who makes that determination?

    Government does not get off the hook here, it’s nothing short of absurdity to try that.

  14. As I said, government is the only entity capable of/willing to achieve the standards we have. But that doesn’t therefore demand that farmers use antibiotics irresponsibly. They only shoot themselves in the foot by doing so – especially since there are only 6 companies doing the research with little to no government funding.

  15. What makes you think the answer is tax money?

    Throwing money at something seldom solves the problem. Although you have the same solution for everything, education, welfare, the economy, etc.

    Just more money, that will solve the problem.

  16. Mass sickness and death from the food industry have largely been solved. Clearly there are still issues, but we aren’t living like it’s 1900.

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