US turkey sector disputes bacteria report findings

By Carina Perkins

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Antibiotic resistance, Livestock, Poultry

NTF refutes findings on antibiotic-resistant bacteria in turkey
NTF refutes findings on antibiotic-resistant bacteria in turkey
The US turkey industry has hit back at a report which claimed that ground turkey on sale in supermarkets was rife with antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

The Consumer Reports study found that 90% of ground turkey products bought in supermarkets contained bacteria, with much of this resistant to antibiotics. However, the US National Turkey Federation (NTF) dismissed the study was “misleading”​ and “alarmist”.

The NTF said that Consumer Reports had used “an extremely small sampling” and that the two main bacteria found - enterococcus and generic E.coli - are not considered to be sources of foodborne illness.

“Enterococcus and generic E.coli are everywhere, and there is more than one way they can wind up on food animals. In fact, it’s so common; studies have shown that generic E.coli and MRSA can even be found on about 20% of computer keyboards,​” said NTF vice-president of scientific and regulatory affairs Lisa Picard.

The NTF pointed out that the two pathogens causing the biggest risk to public health - Campylobacter and Salmonella - were almost totally absent from the samples, with only 5% of samples testing positive for Salmonella and none for Campylobacter.

“This is borne out by more extensive government testing, which finds almost 90% of all ground turkey and 97% of whole turkeys are Salmonella-free. While the turkey industry strives to control all bacteria on its products, it focuses primarily on those bacteria that present the greatest threat to human health,”​ said the NTF statement.

Additionally, the NTF said the report’s findings on antibiotics were misleading, because one of the antibiotics tested for, Ciprofloxacin, has not been used in poultry production for almost eight years. It added that another antibiotic group, Tetracycline, is a largely insigificant antibiotic in human medicine and that two other antiobiotic groups, Penicillin and Cephalosporin, are used “infrequently”​ in animal production.

Commenting on calls from Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, to ban all antibiotic use in animal production except to treat illness, Pcard said: “Animals, just like people, sometimes get sick. The turkey industry judiciously uses antibiotics under strict guidelines set by federal law to restore health, and to treat and control disease.   

“This makes good sense for the turkey’s health and lowers production costs, something very important to budget-conscious consumers. Proper animal health practices are an important reason the US food supply is one of the highest quality, safest, and most affordable in the world.”

Related topics: Meat

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