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Bacteria-riddled chickens coming home to roost

22 September, 2003
Bacteria-riddled chickens coming home to roost

Green MP Sue Kedgley has warned that New Zealand faces a serious public health threat from antibiotic-resistant superbugs, after a study confirmed that half the country's chickens are contaminated by Vancomycin resistant bacteria (VRE).

Ms Kedgley said this was a legacy of lax administration by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, which failed to act after Avoparcin - the antibiotic blamed for the high incidence of VRE - was banned by the European Union in 1997. Its use in New Zealand only ended in 2000 after the manufacturer withdrew it.

"The fact that half this country's commercial chickens are infected with a potential superbug should inspire MAF to act now," said Ms Kedgley, the Green spokesperson for Food Safety.

"MAF has consistently turned a blind eye to the routine feeding of antibiotics to chickens, despite credible international research that this would inevitably lead to the widespread antibiotic resistance problems we are now seeing.

"By allowing antibiotics to be routinely fed to New Zealand's 80 million chickens, MAF is putting the commercial interests of poultry owners ahead of the health of New Zealanders. That's basically what it boils down do."

Ms Kedgley said New Zealanders should be concerned that half of New Zealand's commercial chickens contain a bacteria resistant to the 'antibiotic of last resort' which could make humans susceptible to hospital superbug MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus).

"If this VRE spreads to the hospital superbug MRSA, it will create a bacteria that is almost untreatable. The consequences could be tragic.

"MAF and the Ministry of Health must show leadership on this serious health threat. They must urgently fund research into how we can stop its spread and, most importantly, ban the widespread and routine feeding of antibiotics to the 80 million commercial chickens in New Zealand.

"So far, their response has been pitiful and irresponsible. Funding for essential research by Professor Greg Cook into this threat was turned down, and the Ministry of Health turned down my budget bid in 2001, that called for research to establish the prevalence of antibiotic resistance in humans and animals."

Until MAF felt concerned enough to act, Ms Kedgley said the only safe alternative was to eat certified-organic chickens that are not fed antibiotics and growth hormones.


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