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Organic Meat Reduces Superbugs

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When it comes to overusing antibiotics, we’re pretty well informed about the consequences—but what about the consequences of overusing antibiotics in animals for the consumer markets?  It’s not just affecting the animals, but us, too.

                Overuse of antibiotics for ourselves or our livestock has some pretty big implications that travel down the food chain from them to us.  When livestock needs antibiotics, it’s not a problem on rare occasions.  If it’s overused from poor husbandry conditions, as it most usually is, the livestock are at risk of contributing to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria which contaminates our meat supply.

                A study from the journal Environmental Health Perspectives noted that there is a big difference between conventional meat and organic meat when it comes to the likelihood of passing these drug-resistant bacteria onto us in our next steak.  A shocking one-third of conventional meat processing facilities are contaminated with bacteria; but certified organic meat processing facilities have a 56% less chance of contamination with multi-drug resistant bacteria.

                These bacteria (Salmonella, E. coli, Campylobacter, and Enterococcus) diminished from a 4% rate of contamination in conventional meat to less than a percent in organic meat.  Of course, the cleanliness standards also play a role in the transfer of the bacteria, which was illustrated by the facilities that showed conventional meat was contaminated a third of the time.  However, facilities that processed a combination of organic meat and conventional meat were only contaminated a quarter of the time—something which the researchers believe is due to the rigorous cleaning between organic and conventional meats which may share the same equipment.

                Despite the type of the facility in which the meat (including chicken, pork, and ground beef and turkey) was processed, multi-drug resistant bacteria was found in facilities that were conventional or split between conventional and organic.  The clear winner was the meat from certified organic facilities, which contained less multi-drug resistant bacteria and less bacteria altogether.

                Ask people why they choose organic, and you’ll likely get a lot of different answers; but up until now, there may not have been a lot to persuade people why it is a better choice.  Supporting organic farmers and organic livestock conditions ultimately means that paying more up front for your next meat is a potential way to help other people and animals avoid the creation of the next superbug.

References

Gabriel K. Innes, Keeve E. Nachman, Alison G. Abraham, et al. Contamination of Retail Meat Samples with Multidrug-Resistant Organisms in Relation to Organic and Conventional Production and Processing: A Cross-Sectional Analysis of Data from the United States National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System, 2012&. Environmental Health Perspectives, 2021; 129 (5) DOI: 10.1289/EHP7327

2 COMMENTS

  1. really? an article implying that it's ok for people to eat red meat anymore?
    they”re taking bites out of their children's futures…
    i don't usually like pushing this in people's faces, but…considering the methane output aLONE that this industry generates…AND, considering the alternatives…and rising, good tasting vegetarian/vegan products that are now available…including great restaurants…this sort of ignorance and lack of self control should be seen as criminal…other polluting industries are SO much more regulated since we”ve understood their level of toxicity. same with tobacco…
    i don't have kids. and i just turned 70. whatever people do, at this point, won't really impact me all that much…
    but my friends, mostly, have kids…
    what's frightening to me is how nonchalant some of them are about having burgers…but…their kids that they”re making that choice for…
    i guess things just haven't gotten bad enough yet.
    and, like cancer, once we notice the pain, it's usually too late…this from a retired nurse and paramedic…
    i hope this makes even one person, at least, THINK about it…the transition(for me. i still eat cheese and drink milk with my coffee drinks. i'm not a saint, i need to admit) isn't all that difficult…there's still chicken, at least…and fish, but…we're depleting the oceans a bit too quickly…so i'm cutting back.
    please consider future generations and the rest of life on the planet…thanks…

    • Hi Isaac, I respectfully think you missed the point of this article. I understand your position on this matter, but this article wasn't in support of the decision to eat meat or not eat meat. This article was very clearly an alert that there are benefits to choosing organic meat. People will eat meat if they choose, and this piece was meant to be educational about how we are learning more about how superbugs are being created not just by human overuse of antibiotics, but in our food supply chain as well. This was not meant to support one group of people over another, because at the end of the day, those who want to eat meat will. This was merely an educational point to say if you're going to eat meat (which has become so controversial), then choosing organic ultimately means it will benefit yourself and others. I respect your opinion and your professional history on the matter. Plant based diets are growing and options are getting better, but everything has trade-offs. Cultured meat and meat alternatives can also be unhealthy (take for instance, the Impossible burger which has more cholesterol than a beef burger; or the heavy influence of soy-laden meat alternatives which are contributing to hormonal imbalances in men and women). There is a right way and a wrong way to support whichever decision you (or people in general) make, and I believe that everything has consequences. Ultimately, all we can do is give people access to the facts and let them decide on their own. In no way was an implication made here: I believe people take what they will from this content, and leave the rest.

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