Germaphobia is in full swing. News reports of nasty microorganisms lurking on remote controls, doorknobs, and in public restrooms have many of us reaching for hand sanitizer. Sure, those tales are unappetizing, but chew on this: The real germs you need to worry about and avoid -- the new-breed, potentially lethal ones -- are hiding out in your grocery store's meat aisle. So what's the deal? Is meat healthy? Is it even safe?
Take these disturbing meat industry facts into account and learn to make wiser choices when you're food shopping...
Fact: American animals raised for meat eat more than 30 million pounds of antibiotics a year. Most supermarket meat today comes from operations that routinely feed animals low doses of antibiotics. This constant contact with drugs helps bacteria learn how to outsmart the meds, creating dangerous strains of hard-to-kill superbugs.
Shopping tip: Instead of tossing supermarket meat into your cart every shopping trip, plan some meatless meals that include organic dried beans or these vegetarian protein sources. When you do eat meat, be sure to practice proper food-safety measures, no matter how the meat was produced.
Fact: Each year, food animals raised in North Carolina alone ingest more antibiotics than the entire American public. About 80 percent of all antibiotics used in the U.S. go to nonorganic farm animals to help speed livestock growth and counteract filthy, stressful housing situations that debilitate the animals' immune systems. The lack of accountability for the meds in industrial farming might surprise you. While people head to the doctor for a professional evaluation and prescription, anyone can walk into a farm store and buy pounds of antibiotics. The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, or PAMTA, a proposed legislation in Congress, would end the dangerous practice of feeding drugs to healthy animals, saving the medicines for when an animal is actually acutely ill and needs them.
Shopping tip: The organic seal ensures that animals were raised without the use of antibiotics or growth hormones, so go that route if you're trying to avoid drugged meat. Animal Welfare Approved and Certified Humane certification programs only allow giving antibiotics when an animal is actually sick.
Fact: MRSA kills more people than AIDS, and it's in your meat. Forcing animals to eat drugs is creating a silent crisis in the U.S. A 2011 study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases took the gross-out factor to a whole new level. Researchers found that half of the U.S. supermarket meat sampled contained staph infection bacteria, including the hard-to-kill and potentially lethal MRSA. Turkey products were most likely to harbor staph bacteria, followed by pork and chicken products.
Shopping tip: Since contamination can occur in large processing plants, too, check LocalHarvest.org to find antibiotic-free meat from local farmers in your area who either slaughter on farm or use smaller processors. (The less meat gets mingled at a processor, the lower the risk of contamination.)
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