NEW YORK -- More than 50 percent of ground turkey, pork chops and ground beef samples obtained from supermarkets for federal government testing contained a bacteria resistant to antibiotics, according to a new report, The New York Times relayed.

Collected in 2011 by the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System — a joint program of the Food and Drug Administration, the US Dept. of Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — the data show an increase in meat contaminated with antibiotic-resistant forms of bacteria, called superbugs, such as Salmonella, E. coli and Campylobacter.

Findings were published in February by the government, but they received little notice until the Environmental Work Group issued its report titled “Superbugs Invade American Supermarkets.” underwritten in part by Applegate, which sells organic and antibiotic-free “natural” meats.

Meanwhile, the report has been criticized as misleading by academic veterinarians who work with the International Food Information Council, which is financed, in part, by leading food companies, and with the US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, which gets some financing from veterinary pharmaceutical companies.

“The No. 1 misunderstanding about antibiotics in animal agriculture is that it is not understood well enough that antibiotics are used to keep animals healthy, period,” said Randall Singer, a professor of veterinary science at the Univ. of Minnesota.

Singer pointed out the small number of samples in the federal data, 480 samples each of ground turkey, pork chops and ground beef, and chicken breasts, wings and thighs, compared with the huge amount of meat sold in the US.

“We should not assume that when we find resistance to antibiotics in humans, it means it was caused by the use of antibiotics in animals,” he warned.

Many animals grown for meat in the US are fed diets containing antibiotics to prevent and control illness, as well as to promote growth and reduce costs, the NY Times reported. Some public health officials in the US and in Europe warn that the eating meat containing antibiotics contributes to resistance in humans. Growing publicity of the perceived problem has increased sales of antibiotic-free meat, the article points out.

Almost 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the US are used in animal agriculture, USDA has confirmed, and some public health authorities globally are increasingly warning that antibiotic resistance is reaching alarming levels.

FDA recommends the use of antibiotics in farm animals be “limited to those uses that are considered necessary for assuring animal health”. More supermarkets are labeling meat that does not contain antibiotics,  the article relayed.

Approximately 87 percent of the meat collected by researchers contained either normal or antibiotic-resistant enterococcus, which suggests most of the meat came in contact with fecal material at some point.

“That’s a big percentage they’re throwing around, but that organism itself on food or in an animal has little or no relationship to human health,” Singer said.

Chicken breasts, wings and thighs the monitors tested indicate 9 percent of the samples were contaminated with a variety of Salmonella that resists antibiotics, while 26 percent contained antibiotic-resistant Campylobacter. Ten percent of the ground turkey tested reportedly contained resistant Salmonella.

Of all the Salmonella found on raw chicken pieces sampled in 2011, 74 percent were antibiotic-resistant, while less than 50 percent of the Salmonella found on chicken tested in 2002 was of a superbug variety, the article relayed.