Antibiotic resistant pathogens made headlines in 2011 both as the source of major foodborne illness outbreaks and as the poster child for regulatory reform.
There were major outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria throughout the world this year:
- In Germany, an antibiotic resistant strain of E. colisickened 1500 people and killed 18.
- In the United States, at least four multi state oubreaks that sickened a total of 385 people were caused by antibiotic resistant strains:
- The Hannaford Salmonella ground beef outbreak.
- The St. Louis romaine lettuce E. coli outbreak.
- The Schreiber Processing Kosher broiled chicken liver Salmonellaoutbreak.
- The Cargill ground turkey Salmonella outbreak.
- U.S. consumer groups agitated for antibiotic-resistant strains to be classified as adulterants, which would enable health offcials to issue recalls more quickly.
- U.S. Consumer groups including the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the National Resources Defense Council, Food Animal Concerns Trust, Public Citizen, and the Union of Concerned Scientists filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to put an end to antibiotic use in animal feed, saying the practice compounds the problems of human drug resistance and superbugs.
“The research shows that antibiotic-resistant Salmonella in ground meat and poultry is a hazard, and it’s time to move to a more preventive system of controlling the risks at the plant and on the farm,” said Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director for CSPI.
The CSPI states that almost half of all antibiotics produced in the U.S. are used in livestock production. Other groups, including the Union of Concerned Scientists put that number at 70%, and the NRDC states that 80% of all antibiotics are given to animals. The CSPI’s study of 35 outbreaks between 1973 and 2009 found that outbreaks caused by antibiotic resistant pathogens increased steadily each decade.
Drug resistance translates to prolonged illness and risk of serious health complications for those who are stricken with foodborne illness.
Yet consumer exposure to these dangerous pathogens is still high. “In October, a study by the Food and Drug Administration found that 20 percent of supermarket samples of ground beef, pork, chicken, and turkey were contaminated with Salmonella. Even more worrisome, 84% of the Salmonella were resistant to at least one antibiotic and half were resistant to at least three antibiotics. Sixteen percent were resistant to the drug of choice for treating Salmonella infections in children,” the CSPI states on its website.