There is a recent trend in meat producers that we in the sustainable movement have often praised – pasture raising of cattle, pigs, sheep, and chickens – with no antibiotics and no hormones. Some even ensure whatever supplemental feed they use is 100% organic.
But I think for many (most?) people, this is just another tree-hugging fad, and besides that, it just costs too damn much.
Maybe not. Here in a very mainstream source (Popular Science) is an article that should seriously alarm you:
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, (MRSA) a nasty strain of bacteria that resists most antibiotics, probably developed its defenses while spending time down on the farm, a new study says. It has been thought that humans’ antibiotic abuse is the catalyst in superbug genesis, but this new research suggests it’s the animals, and the drugs we feed them, that we should worry about.
A new paper in the journal mBio, published by the American Society for Microbiology, describes how a human strain of MRSA started out as a drug-defeatable bug and then transferred into the pig population, where it developed resistance to two common forms of antibiotics. Then the newly potent antibiotic-resistant staph jumped back into humans. Researchers traced its evolutionary history by examining 89 genomes from humans, turkeys, chickens and pigs from 19 countries.
It goes on to say [my emphasis added]:
The CC398 strain of MRSA first appeared in 2003, and is found in pigs, cattle and poultry in the United States, researchers said. It’s in nearly half of all meat in the U.S. food supply, according to the American Society for Microbiology.
Read the whole article here. Once again, it would appear that the industrialization of our food that started about mid-20th-century may have resulted in temporarily higher yields and lower consumer prices, but also in steadily eroding quality and nutritional value, and ever mounting environmental and health consequences. Whatever purported savings there may have been (much of which is neatly banked by the agro-industrial complex) is more than offset by the cost of the mess left behind. Sustainable food production, which includes the natural raising of meat animals, will ultimately prove to be the only system we can live with.
So, your choices do matter. Two great examples of where to find meat from animals that have never been given antibiotics, and are humanely and sustainably raised are el salchichero in Santa Cruz and Prather Ranch Meat Company, in San Francisco, and both at several farmers markets. Our friends at Gather Restaurant in Berkeley also ensure that they will only use meat that is humanly and sustainably raised.
–posted by Steven