and Drug Administration), in 2011 conducted an analysis of raw meat samples from U.S. supermarkets. The main purpose of the study was to control the antimicrobial resistance of Salmonella, Campylobacter, Enterococcus faecalis and E. Coli in raw, unprocessed meat at retail. The results were published by the Agency on 5 February 2013. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) emphasized the importance of the results obtained and analyzed some of the data obtained from the study. The results in the analyzed samples showed a surprisingly high content of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
The bacterium Enterococcus faecalis is commonly found in the human and animal intestines. Not only does its presence in meat mean that the meat has come into contact with animal excrement, but it is a bacterium that develops very quickly and transmits the acquired resistance to antibiotics. They found that an alarmingly high percentage of supermarket meat is infected with its antibiotic-resistant forms.
The researchers found that 53% of raw chicken meat samples were infected with the antibiotic-resistant form of E. coli (usually found in faeces). Certain species of E. coli cause diarrhea, inflammation of the urinary tract and pneumonia. The proportion of antibiotic-resistant E. coli bacteria is alarming; namely, they discovered that acquired antibiotic resistance is already included in their genetic make-up.
Salmonella is often found in chicken and turkey meat that has come in contact with animal feces. Salmonella-related diseases kill 400 people a year in the United States and 23,000 people are hospitalized. An increase in antibiotic-resistant salmonella increases the risk of serious infections, hospitalizations, or even death. In less than a decade, the amount of antibiotic-resistant salmonella in raw chicken meat has risen sharply – from 48% in 2002 to 74% in 2011. Of these, about 20% of salmonella bacteria in 2002 samples were resistant to at least 3 antibiotics. By 2011, this share had risen to 45%. The proportion of antibiotic-resistant salmonella in turkey meat increased from 62% in 2002 to 78% in 2011.
Campylobacter (1) is the most common cause of diarrhea-related diseases in the United States. They can also trigger Guillain-Barr syndrome, an autoimmune disease that usually requires intensive care and can cause paralysis. Campylobacter is also responsible for 2.4 million people suffering from food-related diseases and 124 deaths a year
Recent tests have shown that 26% of raw chicken meat was infected with the antibiotic-resistant Campylobacter species. Of these, 58% were resistant to at least one antibiotic and 14% to multiple antibiotics. Most alarming is the fact that all Campylobacter microbes found in turkey meat were resistant to at least one antibiotic.
The reason for the high resistance of superbugs is to be found in the excessive and unnecessary use of antibiotics by the meat industry. Breeders often use pharmaceutical products without proper veterinary supervision and often without a prescription just to speed up the growth of animals and prevent infections in overcrowded and unsuitably equipped rooms.
On the other hand, pharmaceutical companies encourage the misuse of antibiotics in livestock farming for financial gain. According to reports from the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and the Animal Health Institute, sales of antibiotics in livestock increased by 22% in 2011 compared to 2005. As much as 80% of U.S.-produced antibiotics are consumed by the meat industry. According to the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming, the consumption of antibiotics for human treatment is more or less unchanged.
The U.S. Government Service for the Study of Antimicrobial Resistance (Interagency Task Force on Antimicrobial Resistance) noted last year that the choice of drugs to treat infections has become very limited. In some cases, known drugs to treat infections no longer work at all.
Dr. Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization, warned that commonplace things like a throat infection or a torn knee could become life-threatening again – just like before the discovery of antibiotics – if important antibiotics became useless.