What Happens When Your Food Is More Medicated Than You Are?

Got a cold? Forget Z-Pack, eat a hamburger.

According to an infographic created by Pew Charitable Trusts, human antibiotic use has leveled off at 7.7 million pounds, while antibiotics sold for meat and poultry products has reached a record level of 29.9 pounds in 2011. That’s almost four times as much.

Translation: nearly four-fifths of antibiotics used in the U.S. are being routed into the livestock industry, Mother Jones reported.

The infographic is based on the latest data released by the FDA in 2011.

And that’s not all.

According to an email sent to Mother Jones by a Pew spokesperson, the American Meat Institute reported was a 0.2 percent increase in total meat and poultry production in 2011. However, the email also points out that that increase was accompanied by a more substantial 2 percent bump in antibiotic consumption.

So, you may be asking yourself what the problem is with this. Aside from the fact that it seems gross to be eating meat pumped full of antibiotics, this just means you’ll never get sick again, right? Wrong.

All that this means is that the cow that’s about to become a juicy bacon cheeseburger sitting on a bed of curly fries is immune to certain antibiotics – or at least the bacteria that lives inside it are. And by taking a big bite of that yum-tastic burger, you are too.

According to the same Mother Jones article, Pew went even farther, and crunched the numbers on another data set based on the latest findings by the FDA’s National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS).

Pew commented on some of the data in another email to Mother Jones: 78% of the Salmonella in ground turkey was found to be resistant to at least one antibiotic, an increase from 2010, and nearly three quarters of the same bacteria found in chicken breasts were resistant to at least one antibiotic. Of the samples tested, nearly 12% were contaminated with Salmonella.

Antibiotics are given to poultry for two reasons: to make them grow faster, and to prevent disease when they are all crammed together. (For more information on what kind of antibiotics are used in meat production, check out this article by Wired).

But what these numbers mean is that if by any chance you handle or taste raw poultry and contract Salmonella, the bacteria will be that much harder to fight off.

Last year, the FDA proposed a set of guidelines that was supposed to reduce the amount of antibiotics injected into the meat industry. Unfortunately, the agency is still hemming and hawing about how it should be implemented, leaving our steaks, stir-fries, roast chickens, and tacos teeming with pathogen-resistant bacteria.

Who’s hungry?

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