Superbugs in Conventional vs. Organic Chicken

Superbugs in Conventional vs. Organic Chicken
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The level of multidrug antibiotic-resistant bacteria contamination is compared between meat from animals raised conventionally, and certified organic meat from animals raised without being fed antibiotics.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

One of the most concerning developments in medicine is the emergence of bacterial super-resistance: resistance to not just one class of drugs (like penicillin), but resistance to multiple classes of drugs—so-called multidrug-resistant bacteria. In the 2013 FDA Retail Meat Report, more than a quarter of the salmonella found contaminating retail chicken breasts were resistant to not one, but five or more different classes of antibiotic treatment drugs.

Throughout history, there’s been a continual battle between humans and pathogens. For the last half century, that battle has taken the form of bugs versus drugs. First, we developed penicillin, and the U.S. Surgeon General declared, “The war against infectious diseases has been won.” “However, the euphoria over the potential conquest of infectious diseases was short lived.”

In response, bacteria developed an enzyme that ate penicillin for breakfast. Literally, an enzyme that breaks down penicillin, called penicillinase. In fact, they can excrete large quantities of the enzyme, and so, can destroy the drug before it even comes into contact.

Okay; so, we developed a drug that blocks the penicillin-eating enzyme. That’s why sometimes you see two drug names— one is the antibiotic, and the other is a drug that blocks the enzyme the bacteria uses to block the antibiotic.

But, the bacteria outsmarted us again, and so it goes, back and forth. “However hard we try and however clever we are, there is no question that organisms that have been around for 3 billion years, and have adapted to survive under the most extreme conditions, will always overcome whatever we decide to throw at them.”

So, we went from first-generation antibiotics, to second-generation antibiotics, to third-generation antibiotics. But now, we have bacteria that evolved the capacity to survive our big-gun third-generation cephalosporins like ceftriaxone—which is what we rely on to treat life-threatening salmonella infections in children. Where are these super-duper-superbugs found? “Almost 90%…were isolated from chicken carcasses, or retail chicken meat.”

But, what if we only eat no-antibiotic-added organic chicken? A comparison of these multidrug-resistant bacteria in organic and conventional retail chicken meat. The first such study ever published. All of the conventional chicken samples were contaminated. “However, the majority (84%) of organic chicken meat samples [were] also contaminated.” So, 100% versus 84%. Organic is definitely better, but odds are we’d still be buying something that could make our family sick.

But where do these antibiotic-resistant bacteria come from, if they’re not using antibiotics on organic farms? A possible explanation is that the day-old chicks come from the hatcheries are already infected before they arrive. Or, they can become contaminated after they leave, in the slaughter plant. Organic chickens and conventionally raised chickens are typically all slaughtered in the same slaughterhouses, so there may be cross-contamination between carcasses. And finally, factory farms are dumping antibiotics and antibiotic-resistant bacteria-laden chicken manure out into the environment. You can pick up antibiotic-resistant genes right out of the soil around factory farms. So, even meat raised without antibiotics may be contaminated with multidrug-resistant bacteria.

In a cover story in which Consumer Reports urged retailers to stop selling meat produced with antibiotics, they noted some store employee confusion, though maybe they were not so confused after all. “An assistant store manager at one grocery store, when asked by a shopper for meats raised without antibiotics, responded, ‘Wait, you mean, like, veggie burgers?'”

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Nottingham Vet School via flickr and Jacopo Werther via Wikimedia. Thanks to Ellen Reid for her image-finding expertise, and Jeff Thomas for his Keynote help.

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

One of the most concerning developments in medicine is the emergence of bacterial super-resistance: resistance to not just one class of drugs (like penicillin), but resistance to multiple classes of drugs—so-called multidrug-resistant bacteria. In the 2013 FDA Retail Meat Report, more than a quarter of the salmonella found contaminating retail chicken breasts were resistant to not one, but five or more different classes of antibiotic treatment drugs.

Throughout history, there’s been a continual battle between humans and pathogens. For the last half century, that battle has taken the form of bugs versus drugs. First, we developed penicillin, and the U.S. Surgeon General declared, “The war against infectious diseases has been won.” “However, the euphoria over the potential conquest of infectious diseases was short lived.”

In response, bacteria developed an enzyme that ate penicillin for breakfast. Literally, an enzyme that breaks down penicillin, called penicillinase. In fact, they can excrete large quantities of the enzyme, and so, can destroy the drug before it even comes into contact.

Okay; so, we developed a drug that blocks the penicillin-eating enzyme. That’s why sometimes you see two drug names— one is the antibiotic, and the other is a drug that blocks the enzyme the bacteria uses to block the antibiotic.

But, the bacteria outsmarted us again, and so it goes, back and forth. “However hard we try and however clever we are, there is no question that organisms that have been around for 3 billion years, and have adapted to survive under the most extreme conditions, will always overcome whatever we decide to throw at them.”

So, we went from first-generation antibiotics, to second-generation antibiotics, to third-generation antibiotics. But now, we have bacteria that evolved the capacity to survive our big-gun third-generation cephalosporins like ceftriaxone—which is what we rely on to treat life-threatening salmonella infections in children. Where are these super-duper-superbugs found? “Almost 90%…were isolated from chicken carcasses, or retail chicken meat.”

But, what if we only eat no-antibiotic-added organic chicken? A comparison of these multidrug-resistant bacteria in organic and conventional retail chicken meat. The first such study ever published. All of the conventional chicken samples were contaminated. “However, the majority (84%) of organic chicken meat samples [were] also contaminated.” So, 100% versus 84%. Organic is definitely better, but odds are we’d still be buying something that could make our family sick.

But where do these antibiotic-resistant bacteria come from, if they’re not using antibiotics on organic farms? A possible explanation is that the day-old chicks come from the hatcheries are already infected before they arrive. Or, they can become contaminated after they leave, in the slaughter plant. Organic chickens and conventionally raised chickens are typically all slaughtered in the same slaughterhouses, so there may be cross-contamination between carcasses. And finally, factory farms are dumping antibiotics and antibiotic-resistant bacteria-laden chicken manure out into the environment. You can pick up antibiotic-resistant genes right out of the soil around factory farms. So, even meat raised without antibiotics may be contaminated with multidrug-resistant bacteria.

In a cover story in which Consumer Reports urged retailers to stop selling meat produced with antibiotics, they noted some store employee confusion, though maybe they were not so confused after all. “An assistant store manager at one grocery store, when asked by a shopper for meats raised without antibiotics, responded, ‘Wait, you mean, like, veggie burgers?'”

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Nottingham Vet School via flickr and Jacopo Werther via Wikimedia. Thanks to Ellen Reid for her image-finding expertise, and Jeff Thomas for his Keynote help.

Doctor's Note

I addressed this issue previously in videos such as:

Isn’t it illegal to sell meat contaminated with dangerous bacteria? Unfortunately, no. See why in my video Salmonella in Chicken & Turkey: Deadly But Not Illegal. Reminds me of the case I wrote about in my blog post, Supreme Court case: meat industry sues to keep downed animals in food supply

2018 Update: I recently published a few new videos on chicken and illnesses. See: How to Shop for, Handle, & Store Chicken and Urinary Tract Infections from Eating Chicken.

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

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