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.

"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...

Companies that sell the drugs used on livestock deny that there is a connection between resistant bacteria found in animals and humans. “There isn’t sufficient data to draw the conclusions drawn by Consumer Reports that attribute resistant bacteria in pork to the animals receiving antibiotics,” said Ron Phillips, vice president for legislative and public affairs at the Animal Health Institute, a trade group representing Bayer, Merck and other pharmaceutical companies. “Resistant bacteria are out there and can come from a lot of different sources. In fact, there have been numerous studies over the past decade that have examined potential pathways for antibiotic-resistant material to transfer from animals to humans.”

Phillips contends: “Several of these assessments have been done on different kinds of antibiotics and each and every one of them, including one performed by the FDA itself, have come to the conclusion that there is a vanishingly small level of risk.”

But it is virtually impossible to find a microbiologist unaffiliated with industry who agrees with him. “There are decades of evidence linking antibiotic use in food production with the emergence of drug resistance,” said Lance B. Price, a professor at George Washington University’s School of Public Health and Health Services. “There’s very clear, sound science showing that the multi-drug-resistant strains emerged from drug use in food animal production then spread to humans. Anyone saying that there’s no data is either deceiving themselves or lying.”

Price led a team of 33 researchers from 19 countries who tracked the origins and evolution of Staph associated with pigs and other meat animals. They discovered a nonresistant strain of Staph that originated in humans and was transmitted to livestock. There, it quickly became resistant to antibiotics and was passed back to humans as a virulent form of MRSA, according to a paper they published in 2012.

Next: A Better Solution? »

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