Almost 80 percent of antibiotics produced in the U.S. are used on livestock, according to the New York Times. Much of it is to compensate for crowded unsanitary conditions, not treating disease. Low doses of antibiotics, (sub-therapeutic use), are given to the entire flock often numbering in the hundreds of thousands to keep disease from spreading.
Sub-therapeutic antibiotic use kills weaker strains of bacteria and leaves the stronger ones to grow, thus selecting for growth of antibiotic resistant bacteria. The Infectious Dis eases Society of America reports that drug resistant infections kill nearly 100,000 Americans each year and estimates that the financial burden to the health care system is as high as $34 billion annually. Drug resistant bacteria can travel from the farm to you in a variety of ways, including through farm workers. The main path is through our food.
According to a study in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases in 2011, nearly half of the meat and poultry in U.S. grocery stores is contaminated with staphylococcus aureus, and more than half of those bacteria were multi-drug-resistant. When meat is properly cooked, staphylococcus is usually killed, but there’s still a risk of contamination when you handle it and it could potentially spread. Maybe you should wear gloves when you cook meat, especially if you have a cut on your hands.
While the NRDC won a suit against penicillin and tetracycline in farm use, the FDA’s responded only with guidance 209 ("providing a framework for the voluntary adoption of practices to ensure the appropriate or judicious use of medically important antimicrobial drugs in food-producing animals").
With Michael Taylor, former vice president of agricultural giant Monsanto, as senior adviser to the FDA, appointed by Obama in 2009, I don’t expect to see tighter restrictions. There is no such thing as "all natural" as meat producers would have you think. Unless it is explicitly stated, "no antibiotics" expect meat to be produced with antibiotics, and therefore run a higher risk of a multiple drug resistant bacteria infection.
As I see it you have a couple of choices. Know your farmer. Eat organic meat -- expensive, yes -- but we really don’t need too much protein in our diet. If not, wear gloves or don’t eat meat at all. Bon appetit!