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Do you know what is in your meat? 

I originally posted this article on Care2.com in February 2011. I am reposting it here as part of the Healthy Child, Healthy World initiative to educate parents about the over-use of antibiotics. Most of the antibiotics in the US are administered to animals living in concentrated, industrial feeding operations. This week, Healthy Child, Healthy World bloggers are discussing the impact this has on our food, our health and our environment (I'll update with a link to the Healthy Child, Healthy World discussion and posts on this topic once it goes up).

Alarming Amounts of Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria in Canadian Chicken

Do you know what is in your meat?

If you buy your meat at a supermarket in Canada, it is likely to be contaminated with multiple antibiotic-resistant superbugs like salmonella and E. coli.  Researchers with CBC's Marketplace bought 100 samples of chicken from major brands at large chain supermarkets in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver and tested them for bacteria.  Their findings: Two-thirds of the chicken samples tested had bacteria, which often happens with raw chicken, but all of that bacteria was resistant to at least one antibiotic. Some of the samples were resistant to between six and eight types of antibiotics.

Some of the brands included in this study were:

  • Lilydale: resistant to 5 antibiotics.

  • Maple Leaf Prime: resistant to 6 antibiotics.

  • Rava: resistant to 7 antibiotics.

  • Loblaws Club Pack: resistant to 8 antibiotics.

Some experts say that chicken in Canada get antibiotics every day as part of their feed, regardless of whether they are sick or not. The Chicken Farmers of Canada claim that there is only "judicious" use of antibiotics (and not simply routine use of it).

The Marketplace researchers even tested brands advertised as "antibiotic-free," such as Loblaws "Free From" brand, as well as organic chicken brands. They were alarmed to find that even these chickens had antibiotic-resistant bugs. One organic farmer in Quebec said that they do not use any antibiotics at all, but they do buy conventional chicks (which are then raised organic) and he says the only conceivable way his meat could have been exposed to antibiotics is if the eggs were injected with antibiotics before he takes the chicks.

Researchers are very concerned about these findings because the overuse of antibiotics in meat being consumed by Canadians means that oral antibiotics no longer work to fight the superbugs with which people are infected.  One researcher from McMaster University who was interviewed on Marketplace said: "It's the bugs against the drugs and the bugs are winning." Experts are particularly concerned because half of the salmonella bugs found were resistant to Ceftiofur, one of the only antibiotics that can be used to treat food poisoning in pregnant women and children.

The Chicken Farmers of Canada are not particularly concerned and say that if people cook their chicken properly, they will not be infected with the bugs. However, most people are not as careful as they think they are when handling raw meat. Also, people are often infected with these superbugs due to unsafe food handling practices in restaurants or other food service businesses.

Are you concerned about the overuse of antibiotics in livestock? How has this or will this change your eating habits?

Source for all findings in this post is the CBC's Marketplace on television on Friday, February 11, 2011 and the accompanying CBC news article. Image credit: hotcouponworld.com on flickr.
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Reader Comments (14)

This is one of the many reasons that we are largely vegetarian. People don't take this stuff seriously, and in truth it is much scarier than many realize. On the off occasion that we do buy meat, we get it from a local, humane farmer who doesn't use antibiotics.

I really wish more people would look into safer meat. This whole thing is just out of hand.

May 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterColleen

I find this very disturbing. I have been vegetarian for over twenty years and so our family eats a primarily vegetarian diet, but I do buy meat a few times a year for the rest of the family or for guests. We always buy unmedicated meat... It's disheartening to learn our choice to do so doesn't have even the small impact we'd hoped it would.

May 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBridie

While this is not new information to me, I still find it unbelievably horrifying every single time I read about it. Thank you so much for bringing light to this issue!

May 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmie Hood

It is my understanding that in the US chicken do not receive antibiotics, by law. Chicken brands often like to boast about how their chicken is "all natural" which means no hormones or antibiotics, which, as far as I understand, just means "legal".
I'd love to know if this is true, because Im surprised that Canada does allow antibiotics. Usually Canada is more progressive on these kinds of matters (e.g., BPA).

May 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEilat

Use of growth hormones in chickens is illegal in the United States. Antibiotics are allowed though. There was a proposed bill to ban preventative use of antibiotics in chicken and only allow therapeutic use, but my understanding is that it did not pass.

I also found this article, which suggests that the problem is just as prevalent in the United States as it is in Canada: http://gantdaily.com/2011/04/15/study-u-s-meat-poultry-widely-contaminated-with-antibiotic-resistant-bacteria/

May 24, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Our chickens are regularly given antibiotics in their feed and receive preventative injections. Tyson labels (did label?) their chicken 'antibiotic free' while putting antibiotics in the feed. Their rationale? 'It's not an antibiotic used by humans.' Facepalm.

May 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmie Hood

[...] Do you know what is in your meat? (via PhD in Parenting) [...]

Ugh, this is a brutal issue.

For me, the choice is between vegetarianism or hormone-laden meats, since I can't afford organic meat. Or, to be more honest, I don't choose to make space in my budget for it.

The integrity of our food played a pretty big role in a severe bout of depression I suffered through five years ago, and ever since I've been ignoring the issue. Not the best choice, I know, but I don't see what else I can do. I'm not interested in making the sacrifices elsewhere in my life so I can buy organic, and I wasn't happy as a vegetarian/vegan. For now, I'm going to eat meat and try and do good elsewhere.

Government should ban preventative antibiotics in animals. In fact, they should restrict antibiotic use even in humans, since many doctors prescribe antibiotics to practically anyone who asks. I think the hormones are the worse culprit as far as food goes, but antibiotic use is basically rendering antibiotics useless and there is very little hope of developing new antibiotics like they've been developed in the past.

As you mentioned, finding the germs is commonplace and, antibiotic resistant or not, they are destroyed by proper cooking. There will be some antibiotic resistant bacteria almost anywhere, but if there are antibiotics used then the superbugs are selected for survival and dominate the population. Unfortunately, the way the animals are farmed necessitates the antibiotic use to prevent epidemics because they are in close contact and wallow in their own poop.

There is also the factor of how the animals live and whether people can morally justify treating them that way.


We don't buy exclusively organic meat, but we have tried to decrease our consumption of meat and opt to purchase organic (or at least antibiotic free) meat as often as possible. Since we buy less meat overall than we used to, we are able to afford to spend more on meat when we do buy it.

Organic is a hard and expensive designation to get, but there are lots of farmers whose animals graze outdoors, eat grass, don't get preventative antibiotics, and who sell their meat for less than a certified organic farmer would.

May 25, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I am very concerned about the use of antibiotics in agriculture, and I have written about it in the past myself. I do eat meat, though, and so I buy much of it at my local farmers' market, where I can trust that the animals were handled in a way that I agree with.

May 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

I saw an article about the overuse of antibiotics in chickens in the US a few months ago, and since have purchased only antibiotic-free chicken. I just hope that as word spreads and more people do the same, antibiotic use by farmers will decrease to meet the demand. For me it's not too much more expensive than regular chicken, maybe $1/pound?

May 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNico

[...] Do You Know What Is In Your Meat? from PhD In Parenting [...]

Stats like that make me glad I know exactly where our meat comes from. We buy beef from our local butcher where you can see the cows in the back pasture, and we get our chicken farm from a farm that participates in the SPCA farm program ensuring chickens are happy (at least until they become dinner). The meats aren't considered organic, but they are hormone free and get antibiotics only if they need them.

June 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNicole

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