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Bad Beef 

This is your meat on drugs

The 26-page Consumer Reports investigation of antibiotics in meats released last month comes to some unsurprising conclusions, namely, that meat raised on drugs should not be sold or eaten.

"Meat on Drugs: The Overuse of Antibiotics in Food Animals and What Supermarkets and Consumers Can Do to Stop It" is a chilling report in some respects. It examines the role of antibiotics in creating resistant strains of bacteria, leading to increased disease and death in humans. Efforts to curb the use of drugs in meat-providing animals has been blocked by pharmaceutical and meat-industry lobbyists. Consequently, we have a health crisis.

That microorganisms adapt to resist antibiotics was first reported almost 40 years ago. But this news did nothing to stop the rise of antibiotics usage in humans and livestock, with less restraint applied to the latter. The authors of "Meat on Drugs" state, "Some 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the United States are used not on people but on animals, to make them grow faster or to prevent disease in crowded and unsanitary conditions. Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, believes that to preserve antibiotics for treatment of disease in people, use on animals must be drastically reduced or eliminated."

Northern Europe began reducing and eliminating farm animal antibiotics long ago. In 2010 the Pew Health Group, researchers focused on public health advocacy, investigated Denmark's 1998 ban on antibiotics in livestock. "Danish government and industry data show that livestock and poultry production has increased since the ban," Pew writers reported, "while antibiotic resistance has declined on farms and in meat."

But the United States has no such ban, and more powerful strains of bacteria are spreading. ABC News reported May 15 that a drug-resistant bacteria known as MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) struck a high school athlete in New Mexico this January; 12 of her fellow athletes were infected with another bacteria. All survived, but the age group in this outbreak is atypical. The targets are more often the most vulnerable, in which these superbug infections can rapidly cause death. Everly Macario, a champion of the cause to get antibiotics out of meats, lost her one-year-old son, Simon Sparrow, when he contracted MRSA in 2004. The boy died within 24 hours of contracting the bacteria.

The "Meat on Drugs" report praises Whole Foods for being the only U.S. grocery chain to sell exclusively antibiotic-free meats. A consortium of public-interest organizations is now pushing Trader Joes to do the same, and is seeking petition signatures to help stop the overuse of antibiotics in the meat industry.

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