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Food For Thought: Drugging Our Food

What farmers feed their livestock could impact your health.

Do you know what’s in the meat in your freezer?   Chances are there’s a good dose of drugs. Commercial farmers feed antibiotics to animals and its sparking new legislation and prompting a growing debate, is it creating a health problem in humans? 
The chickens on Steve Misera’s organic farm roam the pastures and peck away at feed that’s free of chemicals and antibiotics.
“You are what you eat and if I’m eating meat that’s been exposed to a lot of antibiotics, I did have concerns,” Steve Misera, organic farmer in Butler, Pennsylvania, told Ivanhoe.
The FDA reports 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in the United States are used on livestock. Consumers’ groups and lawmakers worry that overuse in animals creates “superbugs” that are spreading to people.
“What is that doing to me? More importantly, what is that doing to my family and my children,” Steve said.
One consumer advocacy group studied government data and found 69 percent of the pork chops and 81 percent of ground turkey sampled had antibiotic-resistant bacteria.   Amesh Adalja says that bacteria shouldn’t pose a threat to consumers—as long as it’s cooked safely.
“Obviously, there’s a risk if you’re eating raw or undercooked meat, just like there is for other non-antibiotic resistance things that we’ve always talked about, like salmonella, for example,” Amesh Adalja, MD, Board Certified Infectious Disease Physician, UPMC Center for Health Security, told Ivanhoe.
Amesh Adalja is with the UPMC Center For Health Security in Pittsburgh.  He calls the rise in antibiotic resistance a health emergency, but says in the U.S. the problem is not primarily fueled by animals, but overuse in humans.
“The public begins to demand antibiotics for any cough, cold, or viral illness irrespective of the fact that antibiotics have no effect on viruses,” Dr. Adalja said.
Others like Steve Misera, still say it’s just as important to know what is and is not in your food.
“Try to find the source of the products that you are buying and know that person and ask them, ‘how are you raising your products?’” Steve said.
What happens down on the farm may affect what happens at your dinner table.
The Food and Drug Administration has asked commercial farms to voluntarily reduce the use of antibiotics in livestock.  Two pieces of federal legislation have been introduced this year that would ban the practice, but so far, neither measure has come up for a vote.

ANTIBIOTICS IN ANIMALS: Farmers across the country feed their livestock with antibiotics that are hidden in their feed or water. They do this so their animals will grow faster and to prevent the chance of infections when the animals are housed in unsanitary, stressful, and crowded conditions. The effects of feeding the livestock with antibiotics are the “superbugs” that spread to humans. These bugs contain harmful germs that are able to fight off antibiotics. This issue is growing into a large health risk to those who do not consume organic meat. If farmers continue to mix antibiotics with animals’ feed, and if we choose to continue to eat these foods, then we are putting ourselves at risk of becoming resistant to drugs to treat illnesses such as strep throat, childhood ear infections, and pneumonia. (Source: http://www.nrdc.org/food/saving-antibiotics.asp?gclid=CNmgxKeQiroCFTFo7AodQygAqg)

SUPERBUGS: Superbugs are resistant organisms that have been found on poultry and meat products sold in grocery stores. A recent study showed that poultry and meat from five cities in the U.S. found Staphylococcus aureus (Staph infection) on almost half of their samples. Those samples were also antibiotic and multi-drug resistant. Not only are these superbugs spread through food, but through water, air, and livestock workers as well. Workers can spread superbugs through their clothing, which can spread to children and families and the bacteria has been found in water fed to livestock and in the air downwind from swine facilities. (Source: http://www.nrdc.org/food/saving-antibiotics.asp?gclid=CNmgxKeQiroCFTFo7AodQygAqg)

GRASS-FED LIVESTOCK: A healthy alternative to eating meat and poultry without contaminating our bodies is to search for suppliers who provide customers with grass-fed meats. Livestock that is fed naturally and antibiotic free does not contain poisonous chemicals and drugs, and does not contain superbugs. Organic farms provide their animals with mother’s milk, room for foraging, and grass from the time they are born, until they are harvested. The animals are given the freedom to roam the pastures, rather than being locked up in a confined area. Grass fed meats are extremely healthy for people because they contain a high percentage of good fats like CLA and Omega-3 fatty acids. It is also good for the community because small farms provide jobs in idyllic communities, which creates sustainable businesses for future generations. (Source: http://www.americangrassfed.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/AGA-Benefits-One-Pager.pdf)

 For More Information, Contact:

Amesh Adalja, MD
Board Certified Infectious Disease Physician
UPMC Center for Health Security
AAdalja@upmc.edu
724-822-2035

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