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Health Beat: Animal overdose — drugging our food

Health Beat: Animal overdose — drugging our food

BALTIMORE, Md. - Do you know what's in the meat in your freezer? Chances are there's a good dose of drugs.

Commercial farmers feed antibiotics to animals and it's sparking new legislation and prompting a growing debate. Is it creating a health problem in humans? 

The chickens on Steve Misera's organic farm roam the pastures and peck away at feed that's free of chemicals and antibiotics.

"You are what you eat, and if I'm eating meat that's been exposed to a lot of antibiotics, I did have concerns," said Steve Misera, an organic farmer in Butler, Pa.

The FDA reports 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in the United States are used on livestock. Consumers' groups and lawmakers worry that overuse in animals creates "superbugs" that are spreading to people.

"What is that doing to me? More importantly, what is that doing to my family and my children," Misera said.

One consumer advocacy group studied government data and found 69 percent of the pork chops and 81 percent of ground turkey sampled had antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Dr. Amesh Adalja said bacteria shouldn't pose a threat to consumers as long as it's cooked safely.

"Obviously, there's a risk if you're eating raw or undercooked meat, just like there is for other non-antibiotic resistance things that we've always talked about, like salmonella, for example," said Adalja, board certified infectious disease physician, UPMC Center for Health Security in Pittsburgh. 

Adalja called the rise in antibiotic resistance a health emergency, but he said the problem in the U.S. is not primarily fueled by animals but overuse in humans.

"The public begins to demand antibiotics for any cough, cold or viral illness, irrespective of the fact that antibiotics have no effect on viruses," Adalja said.

Others like Misera still say it's just as important to know what is and is not in your food.

"Try to find the source of the products that you are buying and know that person and ask them, 'How are you raising your products?'" Misera said.

What happens down on the farm may affect what happens at your dinner table.

The Food and Drug Administration has asked commercial farms to voluntarily reduce the use of antibiotics in livestock. Two pieces of federal legislation have been introduced this year that would ban the practice, but so far, neither measure has come up for a vote.

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