The last test results from a federal report published last year found that 81 percent of raw ground turkey, 55 percent of raw ground beef, and 39 percent of raw chicken parts were infected with antibiotic-resistant microbes.
These are the germs that have been the cause of thousands of cases of infection and food poisoning. When they develop the ability to resist antibiotics, the illnesses become a great deal more difficult to treat and are in some cases lethal.
Experts say that antibiotic overuse in intensive livestock farming is one of the main reasons these so-called superbugs develop.
Livestock farming and the demand for pharmaceuticalsClose to 30 million pounds of antibiotics were sold in 2011, twenty-two percent more than in 2005. Meat producers regularly give their livestock drugs to promote growth or treat infections.
According to the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming, around 80 percent of pharmaceuticals sold in the U.S. are sold for meat production.
If the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wants to halt the rise in superbugs, then food safety regulators need to get serious about the abuse of these medicines.
The first step that policymakers should make is to look at the source of the problem, which in this case is animals being confined in feeding operations.
Intensive farming creates high demand for medicationsAt the very least, policymakers shouldn't subsidize factory farms over giving funds to farm and ranch stewardship. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Environmental Quality Incentives Program should encourage and support ranchers who raise livestock on pasture - which would reduce the likelihood of disease.
Animals in confined feeding operations are at an increased risk of diseases
In addition, rather than subsidize waste "lagoons" that emit toxic fumes, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program should focus on limiting the overcrowding of animals.
According to the Environmental Working Group:
"Congress should also fully fund the Conservation Stewardship Program, which encourages conservation activities on grassland, pastureland and rangeland. This program, run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, could be used to support ranchers who raise animals on pasture and employ practices that fortify health.
For example, unlike operations that confine a large number of animals to a small area, rotational grazing allows animals access to open space. This practice improves herd health and reduces the risk of infection or sickness that would otherwise spread easily."
It is evidently clear that the best way to prevent superbugs is to reform the USDA conservation programs.
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus CC398, also known as Pig MRSA, a strain of the potentially deadly antibiotic resistant bacterium, has jumped from food animals to humans, researchers from Northern Arizona University reported in the journal mBio (February 2012 issue).