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Antibiotic-Resistant Bugs Turn up Again in Turkey Meat

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Consumer groups are stepping up pressure on animal producers and their practice of giving antibiotics to healthy animals to prevent disease. In two new reports, the groups say they're worried that the preventive use of antibiotics is contributing to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which get harder to treat in humans and animals over time.

This week, Consumer Reports released a report looking at bacteria on turkey meat that are resistant to medicines used for humans. Scientists there tested 257 samples of raw ground turkey meat that they purchased at grocery stores around the country. They conclude that turkey meat that came from turkeys raised organically without antibiotics was significantly less likely to harbor resistant bacteria compared with meat from conventional turkeys that were given antibiotics.

"We think these findings underscore a very important [government] recommendation that we don't need to feed healthy animals antibiotics every day to promote their growth and prevent disease," says Urvashi Rangan, director of the food safety and sustainability group at Consumer Reports.

The findings came on the heels of a report from another consumer advocacy organization, the Environmental Working Group, which analyzed data collected by the federal government's National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System. It also documented high levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in store-bought meats.

The Food and Drug Administration took issue with this EWG analysis, saying it came to "misleading conclusions." But meanwhile, the agency has weighed in on the complex problem of antibiotic resistance by calling for the judicious use of antibiotics in food-producing animals.

"One way FDA is working to address this issue [of resistance] is to phase out the use of antibiotics in food animals for growth promotion and feed efficiency," says Jalil Isa, a spokesman for the agency. "FDA believes these drugs should be used only in situations where they are necessary for ensuring animal health, and done so under the oversight of a veterinarian."
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