A recent study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that factory-farmed meat is more likely to be contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria than organic meat.
Researchers arrived at this conclusion after studying data from the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS), a joint program between the Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
NARMS collected chicken breast, ground beef, ground turkey and pork chops from 19 different states between 2012 and 2017. In each state, it randomly selected a food retailer within 50 miles of its lab and collected 40 samples every month.
For their study, the researchers analyzed nearly 40,000 meat samples to investigate whether different processing methods were associated with the amount of multidrug-resistant organisms (MDRO) in retail meat. The samples were taken from 216 conventional meat processors, 123 processors that split their operations between organic and conventional, and three fully organic processing facilities. Roughly eight percent of the samples were organic, while the rest were conventionally produced.
The researchers found that 1,422 of all the samples were contaminated with MDRO. Only 29 (0.9 percent) out of the 3,235 organic meat samples tested were contaminated. Meanwhile, 1,393 (3.9 percent) out of 36,114 conventional meat samples were contaminated. These figures translated to organic meat being 56 percent less likely to contain MDRO.
Overall contamination was also lower at facilities that split conventional with organic production than those producing only conventional meat. According to the data, conventional meat from pure conventional producers is likely to be contaminated with MDRO roughly a third of the time (34.1 percent) while conventional meat from split facilities only has a one in four chance (24.1 percent).
The researchers attributed this difference to the fact that split facilities are required to disinfect their equipment before processing organic meat. (Related: Agricultural waste could be contributing to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.)
Meghan Davis, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and a co-author of the study, said that bacterial contamination is already worrisome in and of itself without the pathogens being antibiotic-resistant. If infections turn out to be multidrug-resistant, she added, they could be more deadly and more costly to treat.
According to a 2019 CDC report, roughly 35,000 Americans die from antibiotic-resistant infections every year. The report estimated that Americans together spend more than $4.6 billion every year to treat infections caused by six common MDROs.
Why organic food is better than conventional food
Organic food contains fewer toxic chemicals and is more nutritious than conventionally produced food. A study published last year found that samples of organic milk contained zero to small amounts of various chemicals that were found in unsafe amounts in conventional milk samples. These chemicals included pesticides, growth hormones and illegal antibiotics.
A 2016 study also found that organic meat contains 50 percent higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids and lower quantities of saturated fat compared to conventional meat. Omega-3s are healthy fats that help lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation and prevent the buildup of plaques in your arteries. High amounts of saturated fat, on the other hand, could increase your risk of heart disease.
Certified organic meats undergo a strict processing protocol set by the USDA. When you see a label that reads “USDA organic,” you are promised that:
- The livestock grazed on grass and was raised on a blended diet of grain and corn.
- The livestock lived in a way that “accommodates their natural behavior.” For instance, they were allowed to roam in pastures instead of being confined in spaces for long periods of time.
- The livestock was not treated with antibiotics and chemicals when they hit a certain age, usually early in life or during pregnancy.
- The livestock was fed 100 percent organic feed and forage and were never treated with genetically modified organisms and other synthetic products.
In all, organic meat is safer than conventionally produced meat due to the way farm animals are raised. Studies also show that it is less likely to be contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria and contain zero to little amounts of toxic chemicals and synthetic ingredients.
Learn more about foods contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria and toxic chemicals at StopEatingPoison.com.
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