Explanation of Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria

Antibiotic resistance is a very complicated issue, but many animal rights activists want consumers to believe the blame should be centered on production agriculture and the use of antibiotics in food animals. Their claims are wildly exaggerated and are not based on sound science. The issue cannot be linked solely to one source of antibiotic use.

Some of the most common bacterial infections challenging doctors and healthcare facilities due to their resistance to antibiotics are:

  • Staphylococcus infections (MRSA) – The Infectious Disease Society of America (IDSA) has said that one percent of people carry MRSA in their nasal passages and the bacteria is passed through human to human contact. The Centers for Disease Control investigates MRSA cases and has concluded that animal contact is not a risk factor for MRSA infections. In addition, MRSA is not a food-borne infection, so it cannot be acquired by eating meat.
  • Vancomycin Resistant Enterococcus (VRE) – These bacteria are most common in hospital settings due to extensive human use of vancomycin. Vancomycin and other drugs in its class have never been approved for use in food producing animals.
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae – These bacteria are resistant to several classes of antibiotics and causes respiratory infections. It is strictly a human pathogen and has no known connection to food producing animals.
  • Salmonella – This is the most common antibiotic resistant bacteria that can potentially be passed from animals to humans through uncooked meat or poultry. Except in very severe cases, antibiotics are not generally used to treat food-borne illness from salmonella. It is also important to note that all salmonella bacteria, whether it is an antibiotic resistant strain or not, is killed with proper handling and cooking of meat. Therefore, a person becoming ill from antibiotic resistant salmonella and not being able to be treated in some way is extremely rare.

Extremist groups loosely use the term “Superbugs” to create unnecessary fear in consumers. While some bacteria may become resistant to one or more antibiotics, there are often others available that remain effective. The FDA has stated, “it is inaccurate and alarmist to define bacteria resistant to one, or even a few, antibiotics as “Superbugs” if these same bacteria are still treatable by other commonly used antibiotics.” It is critical to understand that antibiotic resistance is a characteristic of bacteria, not of animals or people. What can transfer between the two are antibiotic resistant bacteria, not antibiotic resistance in general.