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Consumer Reports Once Again Oversimplifies Complex Antibiotic Resistance Issue

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Statement of the North American Meat Institute on Consumer Reports Antibiotics Story

Washington, D.C.—Consumer Reports’ much-promoted “report” on meat and antibiotic resistance provides no new information of value to consumers beyond the fact that there are a wide variety of safe choices available on the marketplace for consumers to select. As the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) has pointed out in response to Consumer Reports’ previous tests of meat and poultry cited in this story, it is nearly impossible to draw conclusions on antibiotic resistance and its relationship to production methods because Consumer Reports does not provide any detailed data to support its assertions.

“It is disappointing that Consumer Reports continues to perpetuate myths about ‘superbugs’ on meat and poultry products,” said Betsy Booren, Ph.D., NAMI vice president of scientific affairs. “Bacteria develop resistance in nature in response to a variety of threats. Just because bacteria are resistant to one or more antibiotics does not mean they are superbugs and this is a fact that has been affirmed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. More meaningful information would indicate whether pathogenic bacteria are resistant to certain types of antibiotics, but Consumer Reports has never shared this information publicly.”

In fact in this most recent story, Consumer Reports mentions no specific antibiotic resistant bacteria besides methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) which is not considered a foodborne pathogen. In its previous tests of meat and poultry products that form the basis for this report, the bacteria most often found such as Enterococcus and generic E. coli are commonly found in the environment and are not considered pathogenic bacteria.

According to FDA, it is inaccurate and alarmist to define bacteria resistant to one, or even a few, antimicrobials as “superbugs” if these same bacteria are still treatable by other commonly used antibiotics. This is especially misleading when the bacteria doesn’t cause foodborne disease and has natural resistances, as is true for Enterococcus.

The recent National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System Report found that about 80 percent of human Salmonella isolates are not resistant to any of the tested antibiotics, a finding that has not changed in the past 10 years, and that resistance to ceftriaxone, azithromycin and quinolones, three important drugs used to treat human Salmonella isolates, remains below 3 percent. Salmonella multi-drug resistance (resistance to three or more classes of antibiotics) in human, cattle and chicken isolates has not changed (at about 10 percent) in the last decade.

In fact, a careful look at Consumer Reports’ findings actually highlights the remarkable safety of meat and poultry products, finding very low or even non-existent levels of pathogenic bacteria of public health concern. For example, Consumer Reports found no pathogenic E. Coli in ground beef, no campylobacter in ground turkey, and levels of salmonella far below USDA performance standards in both.

“The most important finding from Consumer Reports’ work that is continually glossed over is the strong safety of meat and poultry products, said Dr. Booren. “No matter the production method, consumers can be confident they are getting a safe, wholesome product.”

Consumer Reports’ guide to meat and poultry producers further confirms this as it highlights the wide variety of choices available on the marketplace. From the very largest to the very smallest companies, consumers are able to easily choose products from any production method they prefer.

“The companies that comprise the meat and poultry industry are proud to provide a wide array of safe meat and poultry choices that are produced in various ways – from conventional, to natural to organic – to satisfy the needs and preferences of our customers,” Dr. Booren said.

The North American Meat Institute has a variety of resources available on antibiotic use in livestock and poultry including a facts about antibiotics brochure and video tour of how antibiotics are used on the farm: https://www.meatinstitute.org/index.php?ht=d/sp/i/102248/pid/102248 , an antibiotic Media Mythcrusher addressing many of the common myths about antibiotic use: http://www.meatinstitute.org/ht/a/GetDocumentAction/i/99936 and the Meat MythCrushers video with several videos focused on antibiotic use www.meatmythcrushers.com.

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