Nearly half of U.S. meat found in supermarkets is contaminated with superbugs, strains of bacteria resistant to antibiotics, according to analysis by the Environmental Working Group.
Testing done by the federal government showed over half the ground turkey, ground beef, and pork chops contained dangerous microbes, like E. coli and salmonella, which cause infections and food poisoning.
With 480 samples of each, researchers found 81 percent of ground turkey contained superbugs, 55 percent of ground beef and 39 percent of chicken parts.
The data was collected by the National Antimicrobial Resistant Monitoring System, a joint program with the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Department of Agriculture.
Health officials believe the overuse of antibiotics in the raising of livestock is responsible for the development of resistant bacteria. Antibiotics are used to keep the animals, which often live in a cramped, unhealthy conditions, from getting infections before they are slaughtered. Over 80 percent of pharmaceuticals sold in the U.S. are used in livestock, according to the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming. Raising animals in pastures would greatly reduce their exposure to disease.
While test results were published in February, it was not until the EWG, an research organization for public and environmental health, made reported “Superbugs Invade American Supermarkets” that the they received attention.
“The numbers are pretty striking,” said EWG nutritionist Dawn Undurraga. “It really raises a question about the antibiotics we are using in raising animals for meat.”
The EWG recommends the Department of Agriculture’s Environment Quality Incentives Program reward farmers for pasture raising their livestock.
"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," the EWG said.
Professor of veterinary science at the University of Minnesota, Randall Singer, said the use of antibiotics in livestock may even improve the animals health.
“The No. 1 misunderstanding about antibiotics in animal agriculture is that it is not understood well enough that antibiotics are used to keep animals healthy, period,” Singer said.
“We should not assume that when we find resistance to antibiotics in humans, it means it was caused by the use of antibiotics in animals,” he added.