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Antibiotics in Your Food: What's Causing the Rise in Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria in Our Food Supply and Why You Should Buy Antibiotic-Free Food

By Barry Estabrook, "Growing Resistance," May/June 2013

As the use of antibiotics in farming and raising livestock has increased, new antibiotic resistant bacteria, or "superbugs" are emerging. Here's what you need to know about antibiotics in your food and eating antibiotic-free food.


READER'S COMMENT:
"To suggest that there is only "one real solution" is a rather limited point of view. Perhaps that solution is the only one for you, but that does not make it ipso facto for everyone. I am a omnivore, eat meat sparingly and when I do I...

Macario has reason to be vigilant. Her 18-month-old son, Simon, died in 2004 from an infection known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (or MRSA, pronounced “mersa”). Simon was a husky, happy toddler. On his first birthday, Macario marveled to her husband that the baby had never been sick. Then one morning the boy awoke with, in Macario’s words, a “blood-curdling shriek.” Rushed to the hospital, Simon was put on a heart-lung machine. “The doctors administered every available antibiotic,” she said. “It didn’t work. The bacteria were resistant to all of the medication.” In less than 24 hours he was dead. “The bacteria released toxins that destroyed his vital organs,” Macario said.

No one knows how Simon contracted the bacteria. He had never been to a hospital, once thought to be the primary incubators of MRSA. He had a robust immune system. He wasn’t in child care. He had no cuts through which the bacteria could infect him. The germs that killed him were “community-acquired” MRSA-CA, meaning that he came in contact with them through everyday living, as opposed to “hospital-acquired” MRSA, a strain that is associated with medical centers and nursing homes.

While it remains unclear how MRSA infected Simon, what is known is that these antibiotic‑resistant bacteria are on the rise. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the incidence of MRSA in the United States more than doubled between 1999 and 2005, from 127,000 to 280,000, and MRSA-related deaths rose from 11,200 to 17,200. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that while the quantity of antibiotics given to humans has remained stable, the amount fed to livestock has soared. According to Food and Drug Administration records, antibiotic use on farms grew from about 18 million pounds in 1999 to nearly 30 million pounds in 2011.

Next: Why Livestock Are Fed Antibiotics »



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