By: Anthony Flood Date: 7/13/12
Earlier this week, I was not amused, but was again surprised to read about yet another alleged reason to fear my food. Fortunately for me, I’m neither alarmed nor concerned and as you will eventually see, there’s no real reason for readers of this blog to be concerned either.
I’m referring to a story carried on ABC News and in an article in Atlantic magazine that argued for a connection between antibiotic resistant E. coli found in poultry and Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs). This story, based on a Canadian study, surely caused undue concern for consumers about a very poplar and safe and nutritious source of protein.
I asked Randy Singer, PhD, Associate Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Minnesota to help me better understand the issue of antibiotic use in animal agriculture and drug resistant bacteria and to comment on this most recent story.
Assumption . . .
Dr. Singer noted that the assumption made in the study is that the E. coli associated with UTIs is caused by antibiotic use in chickens but they never actually test this assumption. Because you can find multi drug resistant E. coli in UTIs and because these look similar to the E. coli in chicken meat, the conclusion reached is that resistance is occurring because of antibiotic use in chickens.
Major data gap . . .
There seems to Dr. Singer to be a “major data gap.” You can find identical resistance patterns in bacteria all over the world in all environments, be they human, animal or natural, even where there are no humans living or antibiotic use taking place. “It is unacceptable to me to pinpoint a single use of an antibiotic in any sector as being the cause of that resistance,” Dr. Singer said. He also noted that the E. coli found in poultry were resistant to antibiotics not used in the poultry industry.
No smoking gun . . .
Dr. Singer does emphasize that it is plausible that a strain of E. coli could move from chicken to a person and result in a UTI. However, Dr. Singer cautions about an emphasis on the link between chicken and UTIs. The E. coli found in these infections are also found in healthy people, their pets, and many other locations. “We may never know how many E. coli UTIs should be attributed to chicken, but the route of transmission of E. coli through the food chain has nothing to do with antibiotic use on poultry farms,” he said.
Dr. Singer went on to say that resistance patterns exist in bacteria in the environment, in animals and in people all over the world and resistance to certain antibiotics in specific bacteria has been increasing over time. He sees a clear need to for a global focus on good antibiotic stewardship.
Here’s what you really need to know . . .
The link between chicken and UTIs is a food safety issue, reminding us about the importance of proper food handling.
To be healthy and safe:
· Proper hygiene is important. Remember, there’s more to hand washing than you think.
· Be Food Safe by handling and preparing food for yourself and your loved ones. This further reduces the risk of foodborne illness
While no one has all the answers and no clear link has been established, experts agree “the challenge to animal agriculture is that given that resistance exists, how do we use antibiotics to keep animals healthy and minimize the spread of resistant bacteria to both animals and humans. We need healthy animals – we need an antimicrobial strategy, other therapies and strategies that minimize animal disease and potential human health impacts.”