Industry refutes ABC chicken food-safety charges

by Staff
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WASHINGTON – After ABC News’ “Good Morning America” aired a report on July 11 citing a Canadian study that indicated a link between the E. coli that causes human urinary tract infections and poultry products, experts in the scientific, veterinary and food-safety fields have affirmed the safety of chicken and questioned claims made by the report as well as the research behind the report.

Bacteria move dynamically, not just in one direction and bacteria do not necessarily move from animals to humans so all pathways must be considered, said Randall Singer, DVM, Ph.D., associate professor of epidemiology at the Univ. of Minnesota’s Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, who reviewed the scientific literature referenced in the ABC report. “Perhaps most importantly, the potential transmission of E. coli to humans says nothing about why these E. coli are antibiotic resistant,” he added. “The resistances observed in these E. coli are common globally and are unlikely to be attributed to chickens given the few antibiotics available for use in poultry in the US.

“This story has nothing to do with antibiotics in poultry production and further changes to antibiotic use in poultry will not change the potential human health risks associated with these foodborne E. coli,” he continued.

“The data is not an accurate representation of how antibiotic resistance transfers from meat to humans, said Charles Hofacre, DVM, Ph.D, professor and director of clinical services at the Univ. of Georgia’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “The study’s authors are making some really big stretches of their data,” he added.

The National Chicken Council worked to set the record straight about one claim in the ABC report that, “the Food and Drug Administration says 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the US are fed to livestock and even healthy chicken.”

This statistic is not attributed to FDA. There is no comparable human and animal data that makes such an analysis possible, NCC said in a statement. Forty percent of the animal antibiotics counted are compounds not used in human medicine, and therefore, their use in animals cannot be compared with those used in humans, NCC added. FDA has outlined this point in letters to Congress that list several reasons the data cannot be compared and used in this manner.

Also questioned by Ashley Peterson, Ph.D., NCC vice president of science and technology, were the results of the study and reminded consumers about proper cooking and handling of poultry products because all bacteria, resistant or not, are killed by proper cooking.

“While we question the overall conclusions of these findings, the study’s researchers point to improper food handling during meat preparation for food-borne urinary tract infections,” Peterson said. “So, it is always pertinent to remind consumers about the importance of safe food handling and cooking – washing of hands, cutting boards and utensils, cooking chicken to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F and preventing cross contamination in the kitchen.”

The NCC and a number of livestock, poultry and veterinary medical associations wrote to Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY) in June citing several published, peer-reviewed risk assessments showing any threat to human health from antibiotic use in livestock and poultry production is negligible. It also pointed out many of the bacterial illnesses becoming resistant to antibiotics in human medicine have little or no link to antibiotic use in food animals.

“All public health professionals, including veterinarians, are serious about reducing the risks of antibiotic resistance,” the groups wrote. “It is vital that public policy decisions about the use of these products be made on the basis of science and risk assessment. The research is clear that the contribution of using antibiotics in food animal production to the human burden of antibiotic resistance is quite small, if it exists at all.”

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