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New study adds to concerns about animal-to-human resistance to antibiotics

Yet another study has found stuff you don't want to eat in stuff that you eat.

On April 15, scientists reported that the meat bought at supermarkets is often contaminated with Staphylococcus aureus bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics used to fight human disease.

The study, published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, found staph on 47% of 136 samples of beef, chicken, pork and turkey from 26 grocery stores in five U.S. cities. Of those bacteria, 96% were resistant to at least one type of antibiotic and more than half were resistant to at least three.

The advice for consumers remains unchanged: Cook meat thoroughly — heat kills bacteria — and wash items such as cutting boards and knives that come into contact with meat.

The larger concern is what all this means for public health.

Lance Price at the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Flagstaff, Ariz., and coauthors concluded that the resistant staph on meat was probably coming from the animals — and not, say, a worker's unclean hands. This seems to point the finger at antibiotic use in agriculture.

"That's the most logical explanation," says Dr. Gail Hansen, a trained veterinarian and senior officer in human health and industrial farming at the Pew Charitable Trusts, based in Washington, D.C., which funded the study. (The Pew trust opposes routine use of antibiotics in agriculture.)

Antibiotic overuse is a problem because the drugs trigger an arms race: Sensitive bacteria won't grow in their presence but drug-resistant forms will — and multiply. The quantity of antibiotics used in raising animals for food dwarfs that used by humans by a factor of four. And, for the most part, the drugs aren't used to treat sick animals but are administered routinely.

Here's a closer look at the issue.

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