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Published: January 19, 2018
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Chickens on sale for human consumption in Britain’s supermarkets are now testing for record levels of superbugs that are resistant to some of the strongest antibiotics in use today, according to new research from the UK government. 

These results are alarming because resistance to antibiotics among livestock can very easily affect the resistance among humans, which could essentially render vital medicines ineffective against potentially serious diseases. Antibiotics were an extremely important discovery that have helped cure many ailments and save many lives, but the more they are used, the more ineffective they become because the bacteria becomes immune to them and thus becomes stronger and stronger.This is the cause for the development of what we have come to know as antibiotic resistant or “superbugs.” That being said, many people have also experienced detrimental health consequences as a result of antibiotic use.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) tested a large sample of fresh whole chickens from various retailers and found “significantly higher proportions”of campylobacter within the last 10 years. This is a harmful pathogen that was found to be resistant to the antibiotics that are commonly used to treat it.

The agency issued a warning, “This survey provides evidence that AMR (anti-microbial resistant) campylobacter are to be found on whole fresh chickens sold at retail in the UK. It is therefore important to handle the chicken hygienically and cook thoroughly to reduce the risk to public health.”

Also noted by the FSA was that the proportion of campylobacter-infected chickens, which showed resistance to key antibiotics in this instance ciprofloxacin, “has increased significantly” when compared with a previous survey of chickens sold in retail stores 10 years ago. The study sampled more than 4000 chickens from their samples of smaller numbers which were exhibiting campylobacter infections, which were were retested in order to detect whether or not they carried the bacteria that was resistant to the key antibiotics. In more than half of the samples, Ciprofloxacin resistance was identified – 237 out of 437 tests on Campylobacter jejuni and in almost half, 53 out of 108 another strain, Campylobacter coli.

These results clearly show that the amount of antibiotics being used to treat farm animals is directly contributing to the rise and spread of resistant bacteria, which in turn can have major effects on human health. One of the main methods of transmission to many of the strains of resistant bacteria is through direct contact with animals livestock. Proper handling, hygiene and thorough cooking can kill these bugs but any small mistakes can result in serious infections that antibiotics will not be able to treat.

Save Our Antibiotics?

Cóilín Nunan, scientific adviser to the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics, told the Guardian: “It is scandalous that [government rules] still allow for poultry to be mass-medicated with fluoroquinolone antibiotics. Twenty years ago, a House of Lords report said this should be stopped. Even the US banned the practice over 10 years ago because of the strength of the scientific evidence. So why are British and European authorities still refusing to take action?”

Even the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control is aware of the issue and the European Food Safety Authority have advised: “Given the high levels of resistance to fluoroquinolones in broilers [chickens bred for meat], and the assessment that a large proportion of human campylobacteriosis infections comes from the handling, preparation and consumption of broiler meat, this is a compelling example of how antimicrobial resistance in food and animals may impact the availability of effective antimicrobial agents for treating severe human campylobacter infections.”

Related CE Article:

Be Warned, FDA Issues New Stronger Warnings About Risks of Fluoroquinolone Antibiotics


What Can We Do?

To state the obvious, you can stop buying meat that comes from factory farms or that isn’t free of antibiotics. Yes, it is more expensive to buy organic, pasture raised, antibiotic free chicken, but you can certainly limit your intake in order to compensate for the higher price. Or, maybe this is all serving as a lesson that we should consider moving towards a plant-based diet. 

There are last resort antibiotics, but once these are used then there is nothing left, and we will have no way to treat serious illnesses. We have to stop using so many antibiotics now, and given that in the U.S.  80% of all antibiotics used are given to treat animals in factory farms, it would be wise that we limit our consumption of meat coming from these places. This is just one reason out of many.

We can all do our part to protect ourselves, the animals and the environment – what is realistic for you? What can you do to help alleviate this problem?

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