By now, if you have read any health articles at all, you have heard that conventional meat and dairy products might contain antibiotics.
This is probably the driving factor behind the increased demand for free range meats raised without antibiotics. Sales of these types of foods increased more than 25 percent in 2012.
While the overuse of antibiotics in animals used for meat can cause an increase in super bugs (bacteria that is resistant to known antibiotics), the same is true of people. The abuse of antibiotics in humans has also lead to super bugs being created.
Super bugs can be passed from meat to humans and this can be not only serious, but deadly!
Do you have reason to worry? Let’s take a look at the facts.
Antibiotic Use in Meat Animals
To stop bacterial infections, farm animals, such as cows and chickens, are sometimes given antibiotics, very much the same way humans are.
However, for milk cows, antibiotics are often given in low doses to help the animals give more milk in a shorter time frame. Low doses of antibiotics are often added to feed as well to encourage growth. Low doses of antibiotics reduce animal death rate.
For all of the above reasons, low doses of antibiotics are typically given to animals used for meat and milk, such as cows, pigs, turkeys, and chickens.
Isn’t That Dangerous for Humans?
Actually, no. Despite what you might have read or been told, the chances that you or a family member could consume antibiotics through your food is very, very low.
There are strict rules in place that ensure that food contaminated with antibiotics cannot reach grocery stores. Livestock owners, as well as vets, are bound by law to ensure that drug withdrawal time periods are enforced before meat, eggs, or dairy products are used as food. This allows the antibiotics, and other drugs, to leave the animal’s system.
In America, the USDA has a very strict process of testing meat, eggs, milk, and poultry for contamination from drugs and antibiotic residue.
In fact, there is no evidence that anyone has ever been harmed if antibiotic residue were to somehow make it into the food chain.
One study, done in 2010, found that less than 0.8 percent of all animal products tested, had antibiotic residue. Those food items were destroyed, by the way. So regardless of what some websites might be screaming at you in bold text, they won’t ever show you proof that someone was harmed because no one has been.
Why Are People So Upset about Antibiotic Use in Animals Then?
Bacteria that are constantly exposed to antibiotics do what Mother Nature designed them to do; become resistant to them and evolve so that antibiotics are no longer a threat.
This is a tremendous concern for public health. If bacteria become immune to our current supply of antibiotics, millions of lives could be lost to disease.
These antibiotic resistant bacteria, often called super bugs, can be passed from animals to humans.
How can this happen?
Meat that is contaminated with this type of bacteria can pass it on to humans if the meat is not cooked thoroughly or if it is not handled properly.
For example, people who consume produce that was sprayed with animal manure fertilizer that contain these super bugs can also become infected. In fact, one study found that persons who lived close to fields that were fertilized with pig manure were at a much higher risk for developing one type of super bug called MRSA.
Humans can also spread these super bugs from person to person.
Aren’t Organic or Free Range Meats and Dairy Products Safe?
Unfortunately, no. While you might see products in your supermarket listing themselves as “antibiotic free” or “Free Range Organic”, this does not mean that these products cannot contain these super bugs.
One study found that chickens that were labeled as “Free Range and/or Organic” were much more likely to be contaminated with campylobacter or salmonella bacteria that non-organic chicken.
The Bottom Line
While it might be impossible to avoid super bugs in foods completely (unless you raise and butcher your own animals), the truth is that your risk of becoming contaminated is very, very low if you follow safety guidelines.
- Practice Good Hygiene: Use separate cutting boards for different meats and another one for vegetables. Always wash your hands frequently and wash both utensils and cutting boards in hot water. Rinse cutting boards with bleach on a regular basis.
- Cook Foods Properly: Cooking meat to the correct temperature will kill any bacteria that might be present.
- Buy Foods that State “Antibiotic Free”: While this isn’t a guarantee that your food is not contaminated with bacteria, studies show that these types of meats and dairy products have fewer super bugs.
Don’t be afraid to eat a wide variety of foods, including meat and dairy products. Handling and cooking food properly is the best way to avoid a bacterial infection.