This Little Piggy had MRSA (and Decided to Share with Us)
By Laura Hogg
From the NatuREport Blog Series
Welcome back to NatuREport! This week in the news - research has confirmed what many have long suspected: that current animal agriculture practices are giving rise to antibiotic-resistant superbugs that can – and do – jump over to human populations.
How do you like your bacon: burnt to a crisp? Slightly chewy? Golden with a side of antibiotic-resistant bacteria?
Like it or not, unfortunately, you’re probably getting a little bit of the latter.
Previous research by the American Society for Microbiology had determined that roughly half of all meat (not just pork) in the U.S. contains MRSA, a staph “superbug” that is unresponsive to antibiotics. But new research has now shown what agribusiness proponents don’t want to admit: that this superbug has learned how to infect humans.
So what’s causing this?
The majority of antibiotics in this country go not to humans so that they can save lives – they go to animals. More specifically, they’re pumped into livestock feed to serve as a growth promoter and to stop infections caused by their horrendous living conditions. The result? "Our inappropriate use of antibiotics ... is now coming back to haunt us,” says Paul Keim, one author of the study.
Most MRSA or other staph can be killed by cooking food thoroughly. But if cross-contaminated, undercooked, or handled unsafely, all bets are off.
As of now, most MRSA infections in humans come from sources other than livestock – but the tides seem to be shifting. In the Netherlands today, as many as 1 in 4 human MRSA cases are originated in animals. In other words, we may soon have a big problem on our hands - and on our plates.
"We're seeing this one coming," says Lance Price of the Translational Genomics Research Institute. "The question is how often will this occur in the future if we don't start controlling antibiotic use?"
It’s an excellent question, and one that raises several others – namely, how long will we let current methods of agriculture rule the food market and our health? Modern animal agriculture is unsustainable, unnecessarily cruel, and as we’re now starting to realize – ultimately unsafe.
Our priorities in this country are pretty screwed up when it comes to food. We’d rather passively risk a potentially deadly infection than demand reform or give up bacon. And it’s killing us.
What do you think of this new study? What do you think should be done to stop the spread of MRSA? Sound off in the comments!