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Animals In Print
The On-Line Newsletter

From 24 December 2002 Issue

Study finds more virulent bacteria in U.S. poultry
By Randy Fabi, Reuters

WASHINGTON Americans sickened by chicken contaminated with salmonella and campylobacter may stay ill longer and pay more for treatment due to virulent strains of the bacteria that resist common antibiotics, Consumers Union said Tuesday.

U.S. farmers have long used antibiotics to prevent contagious diseases in livestock grown for food and to increase growth. Consumers Union and other critics believe routinely feeding powerful antibiotics to livestock along with overuse of the drugs in humans is producing bacteria that are more difficult to treat.

In a nationwide analysis of brand-name poultry, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports magazine found 90 percent of the campylobacter found in the poultry was resistant to one or more commonly used antibiotics, including tetracycline and erythromycin. Of the chickens with salmonella, 34 percent were resistant to antibiotics.

"Doctors may have to prescribe several antibiotics before finding one that works," said Doug Podolsky, senior editor of the magazine. "And patients may have to pay more to be treated."

The findings, published in the Consumer Report's January issue, were part of a larger study on the prevalence of salmonella and campylobacter in chicken.

The bugs, which infect more than 1.1 million Americans annually, can cause fever, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps.

McDonald's Corp., Wendy's International Inc. , Tyson Foods Inc., and closely held Perdue Inc. promised earlier this year that their poultry products would be free of certain antibiotics.


Consumer Union said it analyzed 484 raw chickens purchased at supermarkets in two dozen U.S. cities. Of the chickens, 42 percent were contaminated with campylobacter and 12 percent with salmonella.

Those rates of contamination were down significantly from the consumer group's last study in 1997 that found 63 percent of chickens tested had campylobacter and 16 percent had salmonella.

Raw chicken included in the study were sold by Tyson, Perdue, Pilgrim's Pride Corp., and privately held Foster Farms.

The National Chicken Council, which represents poultry farmers, said the decline in salmonella and campylobacter contamination showed the industry was taking the necessary steps against harmful bacteria.

The trade group also said it was misleading to focus on antibiotics resistance.

"Resistance to bacteria is by no means limited to raw poultry,"said Richard Lobb, spokesman for the trade group. "You have to look at its long-term use in human health and its effect."

Poultry farmers say a key source of antibiotic resistance comes from U.S. physicians being too quick to prescribe common antibiotics at the request of patients.


U.S. health officials have cautioned that some infections were becoming more difficult to treat.

"Unfortunately, some salmonella bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics, largely as a result of the use of antibiotics to promote the growth of feed animals," according to documents previously issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Consumers Union urged Congress to ban certain antibiotics in animals that are also regularly used for people.

The Food and Drug Administration in September proposed stricter regulations mandating drug companies to submit information about resistance risk when applying for approval for new animal drugs.

The European Union has had a long-standing ban on sales of four antibiotics for use in livestock feed. Other antibiotics are allowed, although some nations like Denmark and Sweden have called for a halt to prolonged use.

Consumers Union also recommended that USDA begin testing at poultry plants for campylobacter.

A USDA spokesman said the department was "laying the ground work" on testing for the bacteria but declined to elaborate.  

Return to Animals in Print 24 Dec 2002 Issue

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