Flesh and drugs

Antibiotics and superbugs in meat and shellfish

March 1, 2012

Bad news for surf-and-turf lovers: Your favorite dish is probably thick with superbugs and antibiotics.

Even if you go out of your way to buy meat from animals that haven’t been routinely dosed with antibiotics, you may still be at risk for getting MRSA from meat. Why’s that? Because MRSA — the virulent staph infection that evolved in response to our bad habit of overdosing our livestock with antibiotics — easily spreads on farms, in slaughterhouses, and via farm and slaughterhouse workers who carry MRSA.

As Martha Rosenberg reported on AlterNet, when it comes to animal flesh, MRSA is only one of many disease concerns. Plenty of other antibiotic-resistant superbugs are making us sick (and worse), and the FDA has put up no resistance to what Rosenberg calls “Big Meat,” or the American meat industry.

Meanwhile, the global shrimp-farming industry — which, as Tom Philpott recently noted, has a worse carbon footprint than beef cattle — is also a locus of antibiotic misuse. As Maryn McKenna wrote on Wired, shrimp farmed in South and Southeast Asia “may have been produced with even more antibiotics, and even less oversight, than we have here.”

Chew on that when you next consider that order of popcorn shrimp.

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