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Pork given relatively clean bill of health in retail AMR survey

21st Sep 2016 / By Alistair Driver

Pork has been given a relatively clean bill of health in a major survey of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in retail meat.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is undertaking the survey in raw beef, pork and chicken at retail level on behalf of the European Commission.

PorkThe first year of sampling involved 312 beef and 312 pork retail samples. Meat is being analysed for the presence of bacterial enzymes that are resistant to several different antibiotic categories (extended spectrum beta lactamase (ESBL)-producing, AmpC and Carbapenemase-producing E. coli).

Only eight of the 624 samples tested were positive for AmpC or ESBL-producing E. coli. This comprised two beef and six pork samples.

None of the isolates, single types of microbe separated from a sample containing a mixture of microbes, were resistant to the last resort carbapenem antibiotics.

More details on the survey can be seen here

Georgina Crayford, who leads on AMR for the NPA, welcomed the findings.

She said: “These results demonstrate just how safe pork is and reinforces all the hard work and progress currently going on in the pig industry to reduce, refine and replace antibiotic use.

“It is also worth reiterating the FSA’s advice that the risk to consumers from AMR in all meat products is especially low if they are handled and cooked properly.”

The retail part of this survey runs from 2015 to 2020 and comparison with results from other European countries will be available in 2017. Testing of chicken samples is currently underway.

Campyobacter in chicken

Data collected during the first year of the FSA’s survey of campylobacter on whole retail chickens in 2014 has also been released, showing the number of samples contaminated with Campylobacter, which were also antimicrobial resistant.

Ciprofloxacin resistance was identified in 49 per cent of the 230 C. jejuni isolates and 55 per cent of the 53 C. coli isolates tested. 

The FSA said retailers and producers had made progress in reducing the levels of campylobacter on chickens. By the beginning of this year the data showed a significant reduction in the number of chickens that tested positive for the highest level of contamination.

Science of AMR

The FSA issued the updates as its Chief Scientific Adviser Professor, Guy Poppy, published a report today examining the science behind AMR and the role of food in the problem.

Citing figures from the O’Neill Review, Professor Poppy said it had been estimated that by 2050 AMR could be causing the deaths of 10 million people a year across the world and caused cumulative losses of $100 trillion in economic output.

He said: “While the problem cannot be eliminated, its development can be slowed.

“We need a holistic approach throughout the food supply chain, and to understand how a whole range of practices, such as how we care for farm animals, handle food or irrigate crops, might affect the spread of antimicrobial resistance to our food, and ultimately to us.”

Prof Poppy's report can be viewed here

What is AMR?

The FSA's potted summary of AMR:

"AMR is the ability of a microbe to withstand the effects of the antimicrobials. Antimicrobials are the drugs used to treat them, like antibiotics and antivirals. To have this ability, the microbe must have antimicrobial resistance genes (AMR genes). Microbes may be resistant to just one antimicrobial or to many (multi-resistant) depending on which AMR genes they have. This can make infections by these microbes difficult to treat, causing infections to persist."