The fried chicken wings for lunch are so awesome. The chicken pakoda on the roadside restaurant is so crunchy. The coveted taste of that mutton biriyani makes people come for it again and again. The fans for beef and pork are even more. So meat is one of the most popular foods in the world now. This includes children as well as adults who both enjoy the taste and versatility of meat dishes. While everything about the taste is right, one ugly truth is that you are also swallowing drug resistant bacteria. ‘Whoa… are you nuts? What the hell is the link between meat and drug resistant bacteria?’, you might wonder. In a minute and it will dawn on you.
The BeginningsIn 1950, Successful Farming magazine published an article which noted that antibiotic use caused rapid and vigorous growth in hogs and chickens. Shortly after, many farmers began indiscriminately adding low-dose antibiotics to the feed and water of animals raised for meat. This practice spread across the globe. And sixty five years later, the scientific community is still unsure how and why the medication affects animal growth, but the results are undeniable: adding low levels of antibiotics to their food and water cause animals to grow faster on a smaller amount of feed.
The DistinctionSince the 1940s, antibiotics have played a critical role in protecting the public’s health, and are responsible for saving millions of human lives. From 1950, the pharma industry started producing agriculture antibiotics, just to save the livestock from diseases. If the human antibiotics and agriculture antibiotics were used strictly for the humans and livestock respectively, we wouldn’t be writing this article now. Unfortunately, some antibiotics were same for both humans and livestock and the nightmare began. Meat farms started using the antibiotics not just to treat diseases in livestock, but used indiscriminately to increase the yield. Greed knows no bounds.
The ProblemTreating food-producing animals with antibiotics is often necessary for treatment of infectious disease; critical for the well-being of both livestock and it’s consumers. But when antibiotics are routinely administered to livestock solely to stimulate growth or to prevent disease (i.e “non-therapeutic purposes”), it gets dangerous. Drugs used for this purpose are given at sub-therapeutic levels, below the threshold needed to fully eliminate infectious bacteria. Bacteria that survive this low, ineffective dose continue to thrive. As of now about 90% of all antibiotics produced in the world are given to farm animals. After animals have been fed antibiotics over a period of time, the medication kills any sensitive bacteria in the body, including the natural, helpful bacteria that protect us from infection. Some bacteria may have existing mutations that make it resistant to the effects of the low dose antibiotics. With long-term antibiotic use, it’s survival of the fittest: After all the susceptible bacteria have been eliminated, these so-called resistant “superbugs” can multiply freely in their host and the environment. (Does it ring bells about drug resistant TB in India, superbug in UK?) These bacteria proliferate in the animal and transmitted to the other animals, thus forming a colonization of antibiotic resistant bacteria. The bacteria flourish in the intestinal flora of the animal, as well as, in the muscle. As a result, the feces of the animal often contain the resistant bacteria. Transfer of the bacteria from animal to human is possible through when the bacteria ingested as meat, when humans clean the feces, which contain the bacteria, of the animals on farms. Likewise, in slaughter houses, during slaughter, the intestine is severed. After initial transmission and infection to humans, the transmission to other humans has a couple paths. Multiple infections could potentially produce a supergerm which is resistant to many drugs due to resistance sharing between bacteria.
How Serious Is The Issue?If the warnings of CDC and FDA are to be considered, this can lead to human catastrophe. These superbugs may genetically pass on their drug resistance onto other bacteria, as well. Over the last 40 years, dozens of studies have demonstrated that the use of low-dose antibiotics in livestock is directly connected to the appearance of certain antibiotic-resistant bacteria in humans. These superbugs are the unintended side effects of antibiotic use in livestock feed. When a person eats food contaminated with resistant bacteria, they may develop a resistant infection. In some cases patients may develop severe illness. If the infection is the result of a bacteria picked up from an animal treated with human antibiotics, it will be resistant to current arsenal of drugs. The situation becomes grom when viable treatment options for conditions like gastrointestinal infections and meningitis are included. Adding fuel to the fire, innovative research on new antibiotics is somewhat stalled in favor of more profitable drugs.
What Should You Do?Don’t blame me if the below options are not viable for you. Nobody could help find a better solution if someone is unfortunate enough to have caught a drug resistant superbug. As a human being we can’t control all the situations in which can get infected. But we can control our eating patterns (Don’t worry. It’s not a diet plan).
- Avoid buying meat, milk or eggs from animals that were routinely fed antibiotics. Better rear your own livestock if you can, like chickens.
- Washing hands before and after handling poultry; use disposable hand gloves.
- Checking cooking instructions and following these thoroughly; All meat should be cooked at proper temperature to kill of all bacteria. Food should be cooked right through and be piping hot in the middle.
- Ensuring that any frozen meat has been completely defrosted before use.
- Storing meat at the right temperature in the fridge
- Placing leftover meat in small containers in the fridge
- Keeping cooked and raw meat separate.
- Your fridge needs to be kept between 0°C and 5°C. Also, don’t leave the door open unnecessarily.
- Cool leftover food quickly and then refrigerate. Taking it out of the cooking pot and putting it into a shallow container can speed the cooling process up.
- Antibiotics in Animal Feed, Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, 1981.
- “The Rise of Antibiotic-Resistant Infections” (1995). FDA Consumer,29. fda.gov/fdac/features/795_antibiotic.html
- CDC. Multistate Outbreak of Multidrug-Resistant Salmonella Heidelberg Infections Linked to Foster Farms Brand Chicken.
- The Oregonian. USDA: No Foster Farms recall of Salmonella – tainted chicken for regulatory reasons. October 21, 2013.
- Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States, 2013 (Drug Resistant Non-TyphoidalSalmonella)
- CDC. Salmonella is a Sneaky Germ: Seven Tips for Safer Eating.