I know, everyday there is another warning about sugar, or mercury or coffee (is it good or bad?). But this is different. This is a sirens blasting, red lights blinking moment. It's hard to shock me, but when I read the report on Friday that almost half of the meat and poultry we're buying at our local grocery stores is contaminated with Staph (Staphylococcus aureus) bacteria, I had to let out a scream of frustration. My frustration turned to anger, when I started reading the details.
Of those Staph bacteria, scientists found that more than half are resistant to at least three classes of antibiotics! Go deeper and you'll find out that the government already knew our meat was crawling with antibiotic-resistant Salmonella, Campylobacter, Enterococcus and E. coli. However, it never looked for Staph, which is one of the most common causes of bacterial infections in the United States. Instead, a group of independent researchers is now sounding the alarms.
The authors of the Pew Charitable Trusts funded study, are from the Translational Genomics Research Institute, based in New Mexico. They say this is the first time anyone has tried to asses nationally how much Staph was in our food supply. Staph is seriously nasty and can lead to everything from a minor skin infection to a life-threatening disease, such as pneumonia or sepsis. The so-called "super Staph bug," may actually kill more people every year than HIV. Senior author of the study, Dr. Lance Price, warns, "Antibiotics are the most important drugs that we have to treat Staph infections; but when Staph are resistant to three, four, five or even nine different antibiotics -- like we saw in this study -- that leaves physicians few options," Is that alarm ringing loud enough yet?
TGen claims DNA tests suggest food animals themselves were a major source for the Staph contamination. Dr. Price says, "The fact that drug-resistant S. aureus [Staph] was so prevalent ... is troubling, and demands attention to how antibiotics are used in food-animal production today." Public health experts have been warning the industry about this for years! (That sounds familiar.) Factory farms are using our antibiotics in low doses to make the animals we eat grow faster in crowded unhealthy conditions. TGen researchers say these industrial systems "are ideal breeding grounds for drug-resistant bacteria that move from animals to humans."
TGen says the next step is to "determine what this means in terms of risk to the consumer." I say, what's the hold up? Look, we are at a tipping point. We either solve this mess now, or we live to regret it later.
What can we do as Moms? The first step is tonight at the family dinner table! You know all about the rules on how to properly handle raw meat and safe cooking temperatures, but also try your best to serve poultry and meat products that you know were made without the irresponsible use of antibiotics.
It isn't always easy or cheap. ConsumerReports shows that when it comes to antibiotic-use many labels on grocery store products can be confusing and misleading. If you don't have the luxury of buying direct from a farmer or rancher whom you trust (most people don't), purchasing foods labeled with the organic seal may be the safest bet. According to the Organic Trade Association, "Organic practices prohibit the use of hormones, antibiotics or other animal drugs in animal feed for the purpose of stimulating the growth or production of livestock."
For those Moms, like me, who say it is outrageous that many food producers are refusing to end the practice of misusing our antibiotics -- putting our kids' health at risk and potentially squandering medicine's first miracle drug -- just to cut costs -- can call their congressperson to support the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act. The bill, introduced by U.S. Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY), would ban producers from using antibiotics critical for treating infections in people on industrial farms except to treat sick animals. Do it today.