Antibiotics in Commercial Meats; MRSA in Organic Produce

by Catherine Haug

While I think most of us have a passing awareness that livestock are routinely given feed laced with antibiotics to make them grow more meat faster, I wonder how many of us actually let this knowledge sink in, and avoid commercial meats like the plague?

I’m talking about beef, pork, and poultry from the meat counter at Harvest Foods, Costco, Walmart, Safeway, Albertsons, Rosauers, and so on. Also those served in most restaurants.

Do we truly understand the implications of consuming antibiotic-laden meat? And what can we do about it?

The Problem of Antibiotic-Laced Feed

  • Antibiotics ingested with foods are active drugs that can wreak havoc with our gut flora, decimating those beneficial probiotics as well as the bad guys, leading to a weakened immune system and impaired digestion. Did you know that 80% of your immune system is in your gut — provided by the bacteria that live there?
  • Drug-resistant bacteria develop and multiply in animals that are routinely fed antibiotics. A 2009 University of Iowa study (1) showed that 70% of hogs and 64% of workers in industrial animal confinements tested positive for MRSA, the antibiotic-resistant strain of Staphylococcus aureus, the so-called flesh-eating microbe.
  • The same study (1) also showed that this MRSA could readily spread from the hogs to their caretakers, and from them to other humans.
  • MRSA is also being transfered, via manure used as fertilizer, into corn, lettuce, potatoes and other crops. From there, MRSA can transfer to your countertops and your body. Buying Organic won’t help you here, because Organic methods use fertilizer that could be contaminated, and this is currently allowed under the Organic standards.

The FDA is beginning to take notice of the problem of antibiotics in meats, and is proposing to phase out the use of antibiotics in livestock feed to promote animal growth, but they are not giving this new regulation the teeth needed to enforce it.

Denmark was the first country to take an active stand against the routine use of antibiotics in livestock feed, by conducting what is known as the Danish Experiment (2). They outright banned the use of routine antibiotics in farming, reserving them only for animals that were actually sick. This was following the results of several European studies that linked antibiotic-fed livestock with antibiotic-resistant infections in humans. The rest of Europe followed Denmark’s lead in 2006.

It’s time for America to follow Europe’s suit.

What can we do?

You can write your congressmen and the FDA.

Some suggest we should all become vegetarians, but I don’t think that’s a healthful solution. Instead, I buy my meats and dairy products from local producers who raise their animals in pasture, not on drug-laced feed. And I procure composted manure for my garden from these same producers. See Farm Hands (Who Is Your

Here are some other ideas:

  • Choose lamb and buffalo at the store, because these animals prefer pasture or hay, and will not eat feed;
  • Hunt for wild game;
  • Raise your own small animals for meat (chicken, rabbit, etc). (3)

It’s also important to note that if the manure is properly composted (given adequate time in the thermogenic range), the composting process will at least partially break down the antibiotics and kill the pathogens. (4)


  1. Univ. Iowa MRSA Study:
  2. Denmark’s Case for Antibiotic-Free Animals:
  3. Gathering Summary: Raising Chickens and Rabbits, a Panel Discussion:
  4. The EssentiaList: What Makes your Compost Tick:

Comments are closed.