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.