There’s a new superbug in town, a superbug of a different kind. And Monsanto, the biotechnology giant, is the company behind it. It seems that one of Monsanto’s biggest money-makers—Bt corn, is creating superbugs. The majority of non-organic corn planted in the U.S. is genetically modified to produce a toxic compound against western corn rootworms—a major corn pest. This corn is well-known as Bt corn, because it contains a gene from the soil microorganisms Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which produces an insecticide against the corn rootworm.
Genetically modified Bt corn worked so well against the corn rootworm that some farmers began planting it every year, instead of the usual rotation of growing corn one year and soybeans the next—a method that helps reduce pest populations. If there is one thing that farmers should know, it’s that planting the same thing every year is a recipe for disaster (even if it doesn’t seem that way at first).
It turns out the corn rootworms, much like the superbug bacteria infecting humans, are developing a resistance to the Bt toxin that usually destroys the pest. A few farms in Iowa are reporting that the Bt corn no longer kills the corn rootworm, meaning the bugs—now superbugs—have developed resistance to the Bt toxin. First superbugs in our guts, now superbugs on corn, soon superbugs everywhere.
It’s estimated that about one-third of all the corn grown in the U.S. is Monsanto’s Bt corn. Try to buy products using organic corn, or at least non-GM corn, to avoid being part of the human experiment that is the consumption of GM foods in this country. We just don’t know if they’re safe yet, and many studies suggest they’re not.
In a recent study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, meat and poultry samples were tested for the presence of Staphylococcus aureus, a bacteria associated with a wide range of human diseases, including MRSA infection, the most dangerous drug-resistant Staph infection.
In the study, almost half the meat and poultry samples were found to be contaminated with S. aureus, and over half of those bacteria were resistant to at least three classes of antibiotics. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria pose a major health risk, as doctors are running out of antibiotics that will treat these infections. That these bacteria are found on over half of meat at the supermarket is a scary thought.
The bacteria probably come from the food animals themselves, according to the researchers, and proper cooking should kill the bacteria. But cross contamination can occur when preparing the meat, so care needs to be taken during food prep.
A major culprit in bacterial resistance is the overuse of antibiotics in food production. “The fact that drug-resistant S. aureus was so prevalent, and likely came from the food animals themselves, is troubling,” said Dr. Lance B. Price, lead researcher of the study. These animals are exposed to constant low doses of antibiotics, which can trigger the development of antibiotic-resistance in bacteria.
As a matter of fact, consumer groups have recently sued the FDA over the excessive amount of non-therapeutic antibiotics used in animal-food production. The FDA has produced draft guidelines for the phasing out of non-therapeutic antibiotics in food production, but the consumer groups want to put more pressure on the FDA to act with urgency.
In the meantime, it’s a good idea to avoid meats raised with antibiotics. Look for antibiotic-free or organic meat. Those animals are not given antibiotics unnecessarily so they’re not contributing to the antibiotic-resistant bacteria that are haunting our hospitals.