Super bugs in supermarkets

By From page A5 | June 14, 2013


During the last election campaign, I read that there are about 38,000 full and part-time lobbyists in Washington pushing the corporate interests of the top 1 percent. Less than 1,000 lobbyists are there to look after the interests of the rest of us, the 99 percent. The drug industry which, broadly-defined, also includes Monsanto, ConAgra and other industrial users and manufaturers of agricultural drugs, spends more on lobbying than the 1,000 who protect you and me.

While big business shills like Darrell Issa and his acolyte Tom McClintock chase Benghazi chimeras, they choose to ignore the real harm their corporate friends are visiting upon us. In February, the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (a joint project of the FDA, CDC and USDA) published a report on drug-resistant superbugs commonly found in supermarket meats. The figures are scary. Eighty-one percent of 480 samples of supermarket ground turkey, for example, contained various strains of bugs such as e-coli, super salmonella, and more serious microbes such as variants of Campylobacter jejuni, a bug connected to Guillain-Barre Syndrome and other forms of paralysis. Yes, eight out of 10 packages of ground turkey were found to be tainted.

Ground turkey is not the only culprit: 69 percent of pork, 55 percent of beef and 39 percent of chicken breasts, wings and thighs also contained drug-resistant bugs, some of which are already resistant to today’s antibiotics. Of course, meat sellers tell us to cook our meats to a crisp and thereby kill the bugs. However, how do you deal with meat handling in the supermarket? Many packages leak, often due to rough handling by customers who rummage through the meat case with reckless abandon. Kids touch what’s in the cart, including leaky meat packages. Is it reasonable to ask us to disinfect our bodies, clothes and kitchen counters every time we come back from the supermarket? Wouldn’t it be simpler not to have the problem of tainted meats in the first place?

The FDA/CDC/USDA report was ignored by the right-wing press, such as the Wall Street Journal, because it deals with scientific facts and figures and reaches conclusions that are ideologically unacceptable to people like McClintock and his corporate donors. The so-called liberal press ignored it because drug and agri-business advertising dollars help keep the press afloat.

Most of us think, erroneously it turns out, that the largest use of antibiotics is for humans. In 2011, 7.7 million pounds of antibiotics went to human use, while 29.9 million pounds were used in meat and poultry production. The FDA has attempted to regulate the industrial use of antibiotics in the raising of animals destined to human consumption. The results have been predictable: the drug and farming interests won and we lost. Instead of strong protections for our health, we have industry-designed, self-policing, non-mandatory guidelines, the same kind of industry-designed, self-policing, non-mandatory guidelines the financial industry had before 2008. It worked so well for the economy that it’s worth repeating for our health.

To find out more about “Superbugs Invade American Supermarkets,” go to and look for the 2013 Meat Eaters Guide.


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