Drug-Pumped Poultry Fuels Human Risk
Saturday, July 17th 2004
The Government has ignored warnings that antibiotics fed to chickens pose a major risk to human health. Government reports obtained by the Sunday Star-Times reveal that as far back as 1999, an expert panel warned that antibiotics used in the poultry industry were breeding superbugs resistant to human medicine.
The 1999 report warned drugs used to prevent disease in chickens could create resistance to front-line human medication crucial for treating respiratory infections such as pneumonia, sexually transmitted diseases and the hospital superbug MRSA.
Yet antibiotic use on animals has dramatically increased. In 2002, 108 tonnes of antibiotics was fed to factory-farmed animals, a 34% increase on 2000. More than four tonnes of one antibiotic, Tylosin, was fed to poultry.
Otago microbiologist Greg Cook called the Tylosin use "inexcusable" and said the drugs should be used only to treat disease in animals, not to prevent it.
Cook's research shows Tylosin use could be responsible for continued high rates of Vancomycin resistant bacteria (VRE) found in half the country's chickens. Vancomycin is the drug of last resort against deadly hospital superbug MRSA.
Cook found the VRE could be transferred to humans and, if it crossed with MRSA, would create an untreatable superbug.
The antibiotic blamed for creating the VRE was withdrawn from animal use in 2000, but Cook said the prevalence of Vancomycin resistance would not drop until Tylosin use was halted. "We know the damn (bacteria) are there. The first thing they should be doing is stopping Tylosin (use)."
Cook has stopped his research due to lack of funding and said he has all but given up. "I don't know what to do. It's a lost cause," he said.
Green MP Sue Kedgley criticised the government's lack of research into the problem despite a statement by the 1999 expert panel that a comprehensive surveillance programme was vital. "Their response has been pitiful and irresponsible," she said.
Kedgley said using antibiotics on animals undermined national efforts to reduce human antibiotic use.
Pharmac runs an annual campaign to discourage antibiotic use in humans and says reported prescriptions by GPs have dropped 17%, from 2.99 million in June 2000, to 2.54m in June 2003.
Pharmac and the Ministry of Health would not quantify the amount of antibiotics used in hospitals and homes across New Zealand.
Debbie Morris, from government agency the New Zealand Food Safety Authority, defended the regulations on animal antibiotics and said the amount used did "not equate to an increased potential risk (to humans)".
Any resistant bacteria was killed when cooked and people should cook their food properly, she said.
She said the NZFSA had been working through the recommendations of the 1999 report and a new expert panel's report was expected within 12 months.
Sourced from Sunday Star Times 17 July 2004, Article by Emily Watt
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