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Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria On Chickens

2 April 2002

Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria On Supermarket Chickens

Green Health spokesperson Sue Kedgley is calling on the Ministry of Health to urgently start random testing of chicken meat for antibiotic resistant bacteria, after tests found five cases of resistant bacteria on a supermarket chicken.

Ms Kedgley commissioned EnviroLink Laboratory in Christchurch to do the tests because of concerns that the routine feeding of antibiotics to chickens could lead to chicken meat carrying antibiotic resistant bacteria. The results were verified by the ESR.

Tests on the first chicken selected at random from a supermarket found VRE (Vancomycin resistant Enterococcus faecalis) - a bacterium which causes human illness and is of concern to doctors because it is resistant to vancomycin, an antibiotic of last resort. The tests also found two strains of E.coli bacteria resistant to gentamicin, an important antibiotic used in hospitals to treat blood poisoning, peritonitis, and other serious infections. Two strains of tetracyline resistant E.coli bacteria were also isolated.

Ms Kedgley said the findings posed a serious health issue as resistant bacteria on the chicken meat could contaminate a cook's hands, kitchen surfaces, cooked or raw food and then colonise the bowels of people eating that food.

"Antibiotic resistant bacteria such as salmonella, campylobacter or E coli can make people sick. Others do not directly affect humans but they can pass their resistance to antibiotics to other harmful bacteria, making infections much harder and more expensive to treat.

"If that is what turns up on the first chicken I sent for testing, then we could be facing a serious resistance problem in New Zealand," said Ms Kedgley, who has the chicken in her office fridge.

"When we are feeding around 70 million chickens per year with low doses of antibiotic every day of their lives, I am astonished that the Ministry of Health does not already have a programme in place to randomly test chicken for antibiotic resistant bacteria. Consumers have a right to know whether the food they are buying is carrying antibiotic resistant bacteria or not, and the only way to know is to test it."

Ms Kedgley said if antibiotic resistant bacteria were turning up on chickens, it was time for the Government to ban the practice of administering antibiotics to animals which are not sick.

"Otherwise we will squander the greatest medical advance of the last century, and that's an extremely high price to pay for cheap chicken," Ms Kedgley said.

A copy of the laboratory report is available on request. One of the scientists who conducted the tests and an independent scientist who has reviewed the findings is also happy to be contacted by the media.


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