Tag Archives: resistant bacteria

Bacteria Pervasive in Hamburgers

Ground beefThe burger test results are in. Researchers bought enough ground beef to make over 1,800 quarter pounders from markets all over the country. Every single burger, without exception, had potentially disease-causing fecal (yuck!) bacteria in it.

It’s getting really bad out there in the meat world. As if that weren’t bad enough, sixty percent of samples had E- Coli, including the much feared 0157 E-Coli, as well as other toxin-producing bacteria. Several other kinds of bacteria were present as well. For instance, ten percent of samples contained Staph Aureus, bacteria which produces a disease-causing toxin that even the usual cooking won’t destroy.

Even worse, 18% of the burgers had antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Even the sustainably-raised burgers had lesser, but still substantial, amounts. That means that if you get sick from these burgers, when the doctor treats you with one or more kinds of antibiotics to fight them, they won’t work.

Choosing sustainably-raised beef won’t help much. Both conventionally raised or “factory farmed” burgers, and so called sustainably-raised burgers were contaminated with fecal bacteria, although the sustainable beef (such as organic and or grass fed) did have lower, but still considerable, rates of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

The list of reasons behind the bacteria in the burgers is a long one, but it includes unhealthy conditions on the farms, unsavory things in the cow feed such chicken droppings, and even pieces of slaughtered hogs, contamination of the slaughterhouse machinery, inadequate inspection, a too-fast slaughter rate, resulting in stressed workers and inhumane conditions for cows.

Total beef consumption in this country is currently 4.6 billion pounds, and ground beef accounts for half of that. The study was conducted by Consumer Reports, which suggests considering alternate options. We couldn’t agree more. There are so many safer and delicious veggie burgers to try.

Obama Adminstration Chickens Out

Caged chickensThe news about chicken just keeps getting worse. As if we needed yet another reason not to eat chicken, the Obama administration has just caved in to “big chicken” by issuing new slaughterhouse regulations. These will save the industry over $256 million every year by speeding up the pace of processing and reducing the number of required food safety inspectors, further compromising both consumer and worker safety. If the White House signs off on the USDA’s proposed regulations as expected, poultry plants could speed up their slaughter lines later this year. The maximum speed for chickens would increase from 140 birds per minute to 175 per minute, and for turkeys, from 45 birds to 55 per minute, and an antiseptic spray will substitute for inspectors.

Workers, who already often complain of carpal tunnel and other musculoskeletal disorders, will have to pluck, cut and sort birds even faster. We’ve already written about how slaughterhouse workers have one of the most dangerous and abusive jobs in the country.

To keep speeds up, the new regulations “would allow visibly contaminated poultry carcasses to remain online for treatment” rather than being discarded or removed for off-line cleaning, as is now common practice. The proposed rules say “all carcasses” on the line would be treated with antimicrobial chemicals “whether they are contaminated or not.” Worse still, when the chicken is tested it is allowed to continue on its way towards being eaten, since tests results won’t come back until much later. This is especially troubling since 97% of raw chicken in U.S. supermarkets are contaminated with bacteria that could make you sick, according to a new Consumer Reports study. We have recently posted how many of those disease-causing bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics.

Then there’s the issue of the safety of the antiseptics themselves. Government agencies have not conducted independent research into the possible side effects on consumers of ingesting the disinfectant residues, not to mention the increased worker exposure.

All of this adds to the many other problems caused by chicken. High levels of saturated fat and cholesterol contribute to clogged arteries and other diseases. Cooking chicken produces more cancer-causing heterocyclic amines (HCA’s) than any other meat when cooked. Raising chickens also causes massive water pollution and contributes to global warming. And the poor chickens are commonly jammed into cages so crowded they can’t even turn around, causing endless animal suffering. The ever-increasing bad news about chicken will certainly encourage more people to think twice about choosing chicken for dinner.

Antibiotics – End of the Miracle, Beginning of a Nightmare

Pigs confinedThere’s an emergency brewing out there. The miracle of antibiotics, and their ability to quickly and easily conquer once often-deadly, common infections, is fading, and the nightmare of death and disease from bacteria may be about to begin – if we don’t act soon.

It’s scary, and it can be deadly, when antibiotics stop working against bacteria. This is known as antibiotic resistance. Patients suffer and can die from antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Unfortunately, this is happening more and more these days. Many doctors warn that we may soon have no effective antibiotics – a medical catastrophe. In fact, the problem has become so widespread and serious that the World Health Organization calls antibiotic resistance one of the three greatest threats to human health.

Many medical authorities from around the world, and from right here in the good old US of A, are starting ring the alarm bells. For instance, Britain’s most senior medical adviser has warned that the rise in drug-resistant diseases could trigger a national emergency comparable to a catastrophic terrorist attack, pandemic flu or major coastal flooding.

Dame Sally Davies, their chief medical officer (equivalent to our Surgeon General), said the threat from infections that are resistant to frontline antibiotics was so serious that the issue should be added to the government’s national risk register of civil emergencies.

She described what she called an “apocalyptic scenario” where people going for simple operations in 20 years’ time would die of routine infections, “because we have run out of antibiotics”. Drug resistance is emerging in diseases across the board. Davies said 80% of gonorrhea was now resistant to the frontline antibiotic tetracycline, and infections were rising in young and middle-aged people. Multi-drug resistant TB was also a major threat, she said. Another worrying trend is the rise in infections that are resistant to powerful antibiotics called carbapenems, which doctors rely on to tackle the most serious infections.

As with so many threats besetting humanity, the problem is linked to meat.

Most farm animals these days are raised on what are known as factory farms. On factory farms, animals are badly crowded together, and overcrowding promotes the spread of disease. To enable farm animals to survive under such harsh and unnatural conditions, farmers must routinely give them antibiotics in their daily feed. 80% of the antibiotics in the United States are used on farms. (The other 20% is prescribed by doctors for human use and over-prescribing is also a cause for concern). The practice, far from abating, is getting worse with sales of antibiotics to factory farms growing 2% over last year. The problem is that, with repeated use, all antibiotics become less and less effective because the bacteria develop resistance to it. According to former FDA commissioner, David Kessler, “Rather than healing sick animals, these drugs are often fed to animals at low levels to make them grow faster and to suppress diseases that arise because they live in dangerously close quarters on top of one another’s waste.”

To make matters worse, resistant bacteria have the ability to transfer their resistance to other previously non-resistant bacteria, making them resistant even though they have not been directly exposed to antibiotics themselves. These bacteria can then spread throughout the farm to other animals, to the farmers themselves, and from the farmers into the broader community. And of course, these bacteria are also transported into the community through the meat itself.

Outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant bacteria are in the news quite frequently these days. Many infections caused by bacteria, such as Staph, Strep, Salmonella, Chlamydia and Gonorrhea, that were once easily cured with antibiotics are again threatening our health and even our lives due to antibiotic resistance. In one case, a 12-year-old child was infected with Salmonella that was resistant to 13 different antibiotics. One outbreak of antibiotic resistant bacteria in food was the recall of over 36 million pounds of antibiotic resistant salmonella found in ground turkey made by Cargill. Health officials say the turkey being recalled contains Salmonella Heidelberg, a strain that is resistant to most commonly prescribed antibiotics.

You may have heard of a very dangerous bacterium in the news lately called MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staph Aureus). MRSA causes serious, sometime deadly, resistant infections among healthy individuals, tragically including high school students and athletes. In one study, researchers found this deadly bacterium on 70% of pigs in Iowa and Illinois. And even more troubling, they found that 40% of farmers were carrying MRSA into the community, where children are particularly at risk. Another study found that resistant bacteria were being spread by flies.

Resistant bacteria are also making their way into our food supply. In one study of meat collected from supermarkets, almost all the bacteria found were resistant to at least one antibiotic, and over half the bacteria tested were resistant to three different antibiotics. Dr. Davidson H. Hamer, assistant professor of medicine at Tufts University, states, “The fact that one’s Sunday roast could literally be harboring a deadly and potentially untreatable pathogen no longer leaves any excuse for complacency.”

The Food and Drug Administration systematically monitors the meat and poultry sold in supermarkets around the country for the presence of disease-causing bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. These food products are bellwethers that tell us how bad the crisis of antibiotic resistance is getting. And they’re telling us it’s getting worse. This year, the FDA found that 74 percent of bacterially tainted chicken products harbored germs that were resistant to one or more types of antibiotics. For turkey products, more than three-quarters contained E. coli, and of those samples, 75 percent were resistant to one or more types of antibiotics.

Of course, the livestock farmers won’t admit responsibility. But, listen to what Dr. A. Khan, a deputy director at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said at a recent congressional hearing in Washington, D.C.: “There’s unequivocal evidence [of a] relationship between use of antibiotics in animals and transmission of antibiotic-resistant bacteria causing adverse effects in humans.” At the same hearing, Joshua Sharfstein, principal deputy commissioner at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said that researchers used molecular fingerprinting to follow an outbreak of drug-resistant bacteria, “You actually can trace the specific bacteria around, and they find that the resistant strains in humans match the resistant strains in the animals.” Even the reluctant US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has finally acknowledged the problem. But none of this is news. The American Medical Association called for an end to the routine use of antibiotics in farm animals years ago.

Don’t hold your breath for things to change. While both the FDA and the USDA have known about this problem for many years, they have chosen not to act on it. The same goes for congress. Bipartisan sponsored bills that would end the practice have gone nowhere, including the latest proposed legislation that would ban farmers from using seven classes of antibiotics critical for human health, except to treat sick animals.

Recently, the FDA, in a new but largely symbolic move, issued an advisory against the routine feeding of antibiotics to farm animals, because the practice is breeding resistant bacteria that are infecting humans more and more frequently. But the advisory has no force at all. It’s only a recommendation.

Just imagine what humanity stands to lose if the antibiotics become useless. We can’t wait any longer to take action. This is where the vegetarian diet comes into play. By adopting a vegetarian diet, you can help reduce the demand for meat and thus the amount of antibiotics used in agriculture. If you’re not yet ready to become a vegetarian, even cutting down your meat consumption can make a big difference. In doing so, you’ll be protecting your own health and the health of the whole community by helping to prevent the emergence of drug-resistant bacteria.

Beyond Pink Slime

Oh yuk! There’s something called pink slime in hamburgers and we’re feeding it to our kids at school! In response to a large number of grossed out parents and the general public at large, a growing number school districts, restaurants and grocery stores are rapidly removing hamburgers and ground beef which contain pink slime from their offerings. Pink slime is the common term used to describe cuttings and scrapings of meat often taken from the less appetizing parts of the cow and then treated with the harsh chemical ammonium hydroxide to kill the bacteria it usually contains.

While we have no problem with removing pink slime from the burgers, there are much more serious problems with the common hamburger that can’t be so easily fixed, and which harm us much more than just making us hold our noses and saying yuk. Ultimately there is no such thing as safe meat. Meat is loaded with cholesterol and saturated fat, not to mention E. Coli and other pathogens that can cause serious illnesses. Let’s take a look at some of them and ask ourselves why, given the problems they cause, we still have hamburgers on the menus at all.

Topping our list are artery-clogging saturated fat and cholesterol that are found in hamburgers in plentiful amounts. While fat and cholesterol may not sound as objectionable as pink slime, the damage they cause is much worse. It turns out that saturated fat and cholesterol are the culprits behind clogged arteries which in the heart can cause heart attacks, and in the brain can cause strokes. These two diseases are the number one and number three causes of death in America.

Next on our list of burger problems are antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Most farm animals these days are raised on what are known as factory farms. On factory farms, animals are badly crowded together, and overcrowding promotes the spread of disease. To enable farm animals to survive under such harsh and unnatural conditions, farmers must routinely give them antibiotics in their daily feed. The problem is that, with repeated use, all antibiotics become less and less effective because the bacteria develop resistance to it. In one study of meat collected from supermarkets, almost all the bacteria found were resistant to at least one antibiotic, and over half the bacteria tested were resistant to three different antibiotics.

Antibiotics have been haled as the miracle drugs of the 20th century, but they are now under threat. Doctors are frustrated by rising numbers of infections resistant to their arsenal of antibiotics. When these medicines don’t work, patients suffer or even die, and our nation’s health tab also ratchets upward.  Doctors worry that the day may soon come when their prescriptions will no longer work, and we will go back to the old days when infections were rampant and people died from them. 

Rounding out our list are toxic and cancer causing chemicals. Broadly speaking, there are three kinds of toxic chemicals out there that are the most worrisome: those that were deliberately applied in agriculture, industrial chemicals discharged as pollutants, and chemicals directly applied to food or which emerge during its cooking and processing.  When agricultural chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides are applied to crops, or industrial pollutants such as PCBs, dioxins and mercury contaminate the air and water, they wind up being consumed by the farm animals. Other toxic chemicals such as heterocyclic amines or HCA’s are formed when the meat is cooked. Many of these toxic chemicals have been shown to cause serious health problems ranging from birth defects to cancer.

The problem is that the farm animals (and fish which consume polluted algae) store these chemicals in their bodies, especially in the fatty portions, in a process known as bioaccumulation. Day after day, and year after year, the levels of these chemicals build until the animal is finally killed for food. When we eat the animal, we get much of the toxic chemicals they have been storing.

What about the toxic chemicals on the crops themselves, that vegetarians eat directly, you may ask? This is a legitimate concern. However meat often has levels of toxic chemicals 10 times higher than in plant foods, as a result of the animals storing and concentrating them day after day. In fact, most Americans get 90% of their toxic exposure through meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy. 

Just how serious is the problem of toxic chemicals in meat?  According to Oxford University Physician Paula Baillie Hamilton, “We are one of the most polluted species on the planet. Indeed, we are all so contaminated that if we were cannibals our meat would be banned from human consumption.” No wonder cancer has become so much more common in recent times.

 Here in the US, Neal Barnard MD, President of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, sums up the overall problem with meat when he says, “Whether it’s pink slime or organic and grass-fed beef, it all leads to obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other life-threatening illnesses.” The pink slime victory shows just how powerful consumers can be when they come together to fight an unsafe product. But it’s hardly the end of the battle. It’s time to face up to the consequences of our meaty diets and move to more healthful ways of eating.

Antibiotics Under Threat

It’s scary and it can be deadly when antibiotics stop working against bacteria. This is known as antibiotic resistance. Patients suffer and can die from antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Unfortunately, this is happening more and more these days. Many doctors warn that we may soon have no effective antibiotics – a medical catastrophe. In fact, the problem has become so widespread and serious that the World Health Organization calls antibiotic resistance one of the three greatest threats to human health. As with so many threats besetting humanity, the problem is linked to meat.

 Most farm animals these days are raised on what are known as factory farms. On factory farms, animals are badly crowded together, and overcrowding promotes the spread of disease. To enable farm animals to survive under such harsh and unnatural conditions, farmers must routinely give them antibiotics in their daily feed. 85% of the antibiotics in the United States are used on farms. (The other 15% is prescribed by doctors for human use and overprescribing is also a cause for concern). The problem is that, with repeated use, all antibiotics become less and less effective because the bacteria develop resistance to it.

To make matters worse, resistant bacteria have the ability to transfer their resistance to other previously non-resistant bacteria, making them resistant even though they have not been directly exposed to antibiotics themselves. These bacteria can then spread throughout the farm to other animals, to the farmers themselves, and from the farmers into the broader community. And of course, these bacteria are also transported into the community through the meat itself.

You may have heard of a very dangerous bacterium in the news lately called MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staph Aureus).  MRSA causes serious, sometime deadly, resistant infections among healthy individuals, tragically including high school students and athletes. In one study, researchers found this deadly bacterium on 70% of pigs in Iowa and Illinois. And even more troubling, they found that 40% of farmers were carrying MRSA into the community, where children are particularly at risk. Another study found that resistant bacteria were being spread by flies.

Resistant bacteria are also making their way into our food supply. In one study of meat collected from supermarkets, almost all the bacteria found were resistant to at least one antibiotic, and over half the bacteria tested were resistant to three different antibiotics. Dr. Davidson H. Hamer, assistant professor of medicine at Tufts University, states, “The fact that one’s Sunday roast could literally be harboring a deadly and potentially untreatable pathogen no longer leaves any excuse for complacency.”

 Of course, the livestock farmers won’t admit responsibility. But, listen to what Dr. A. Khan, a deputy director at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said at a recent congressional hearing in Washington, D.C.: “There’s unequivocal evidence [of a] relationship between use of antibiotics in animals and transmission of antibiotic-resistant bacteria causing adverse effects in humans.” At the same hearing, Joshua Sharfstein, principal deputy commissioner at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said that researchers used molecular fingerprinting to follow an outbreak of drug-resistant bacteria, “You actually can trace the specific bacteria around, and they find that the resistant strains in humans match the resistant strains in the animals.” Even the reluctant US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has finally acknowledged the problem. But none of this is news. The American Medical Association called for an end to the routine use of antibiotics in farm animals years ago.

Don’t hold your breath for things to change. While both the FDA and the USDA have known about this problem for many years, they have chosen not to act on it.  The same goes for congress. Bipartisan sponsored bills that would end the practice have gone nowhere, including the latest proposed legislation that would ban farmers from using seven classes of antibiotics critical for human health, except to treat sick animals.

Recently, the FDA, in a new but largely symbolic move, issued an advisory against the routine feeding of antibiotics to farm animals, because the practice is breeding resistant bacteria that are infecting humans more and more frequently. But the advisory has no force at all. It’s only a recommendation.

The practice of medicine was very different 100 years ago. The most common diseases were bacterial infections such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, intestinal infection and kidney infection. When antibiotics were invented, they were hailed as nearly miracle drugs. Seemingly overnight, once deadly infections were transformed into nothing more than minor inconveniences. In large part because the threat of deadly bacterial infection was greatly reduced, life spans increased dramatically. During the new age of antibiotics, more and more people could look forward to retirement and old age. Today, bacterial infection doesn’t even make it to the top seven causes of death in the United States.

But this is starting to change.  The miracle drugs of the 20th century are under threat. Doctors are frustrated by rising numbers of infections resistant to their arsenal of antibiotics. When these medicines don’t work, patients suffer or even die, and our nation’s health tab also ratchets upward. Medical researchers in Cook County Hospital in Chicago have determined that antibiotic resistant infections now cost America $26 billion every year. More importantly, doctors worry that the day may soon come when their prescriptions will no longer work, and we will go back to the old days when infections were rampant and people died from them.

Outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant bacteria are in the news quite frequently these days. Many infections caused by bacteria, such as Staph, Strep, Salmonella, Chlamydia and Gonorrhea, that were once easily cured with antibiotics are again threatening our health and even our lives due to antibiotic resistance. In one case, a 12-year-old child was infected with Salmonella that was resistant to 13 different antibiotics.

As of this writing, the latest outbreak of antibiotic resistant bacteria in food was the recall of over 36 million pounds of antibiotic resistant salmonella found in ground turkey made by Cargill. Health officials say the turkey being recalled contains Salmonella Heidelberg, a strain that is resistant to most commonly prescribed antibiotics.

 Just imagine what humanity stands to lose if the antibiotics become useless. We can’t wait any longer to take action. This is where the vegetarian diet comes into play. By adopting a vegetarian diet, you can help reduce the demand for meat and thus the amount of antibiotics used in agriculture. If you’re not yet ready to become a vegetarian, even cutting down your meat consumption can make a big difference.  In doing so, you’ll be protecting your own health and the health of the whole community by helping to pre­vent the emergence of drug-resistant bacteria.