While conventional wisdom has maintained that UTIs are primarily caused by sexual contact with an infected individual and/or the transferring of fecal bacteria from your anus to your urethra, research has linked drug-resistant UTIs to contaminated chicken meat. This is not a surprise once you realize that over 80 percent of the antibiotics used in the U.S. are given to animals raised in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and it’s rare for commercial chickens to not be raised in a CAFO environment.

Scientists have indeed warned that infectious disease could potentially spread through the food supply, and when it comes to UTIs, DNA matching overwhelmingly supports this hypothesis. In other words, many UTIs are caused by zoonosis, meaning animal to human disease transfer. 

A number of mcr-1-related infections in humans have been linked to consumption of contaminated meat. For example, a gene was detected in the blood of a Danish patient in late 2015, and mcr-1 was also found in five poultry samples purchased in Denmark that were imported from Germany between 2012 and 2014.

Part of the problem goes back to the fact that antibiotics — including colistin, in the case of Chinese poultry production — have remained widely used in agriculture for growth promotion purposes, allowing resistance to develop. This despite the fact that agricultural use of antibiotics has been suspected of causing human infections since at least 2001.

The use of low-dose antibiotics allows meat producers to add weight on animals for less money because they make feed absorption more efficient. The drugs also help prevent disease outbreaks in the crowded and unsanitary housing conditions that concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are notorious for.

But just how high a price are we willing to pay for cheaper meat? Tens of thousands of Americans now die each year from drug-resistant infections, many of which clearly appear to be spread through our food supply.

Some chicken producers have started reining in or eliminating medically unnecessary antibiotics in their production, but not all. Sanderson Farms for example, which is the third-largest poultry producer in the U.S., has refused to even acknowledge the risks associated with the practice. They are a reprehensible company; they market themselves as “all natural” even though they load up their chickens with antibiotics.

And, while experts have urged the food industry to cease use of antibiotics, data from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggests agricultural use is actually increasing rather than decreasing. According to the FDA’s 2014 Summary Report on Antimicrobials Sold or Distributed for Use in Food-Producing Animals, domestic sales and distribution of cephalosporins for food-producing animals rose by 57 percent between 2009 through 2014. 

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