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Chickens drug resistant

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Report: Chickens contain harmful, drug-resistant bacteria

WASHINGTON (AP) A consumer magazine says it found harmful, drug-resistant bacteria in nearly half the chickens it bought from stores nationwide.

The bacterium campylobacter, which can cause food poisoning, was found in 42% of 484 fresh broiler chickens tested for a survey in the January issue of Consumer Reports. The magazine said Tuesday that 12% of the chickens had salmonella, another bacterium. Both bugs can cause diarrhea, fever, abdominal pain and sometimes death.

The report said people sickened by the bacteria would stay sick longer, and treatment would be more difficult for doctors to treat, because 90% of the campylobacter samples and 34% of the salmonella resisted treatment by commonly used antibiotics such as tetracycline.

"That's a very uncomfortable starting point, and it goes to reinforce the growing concern about the use of antibiotics in livestock production," said David Pittle, vice president for technical policy at the magazine's publisher, Consumers Union.

Bacteria can become stronger if they survive drug treatment. Many have blamed the increasing prevalence of such bacteria on doctors' overprescribing antibiotics and patients' misusing them. Other groups now argue that farmers who use antibiotics in barnyard animals to prevent illness and speed growth are compounding the problem.

They want Congress and the president to enact a law restricting the drugs' use in animals.

Pharmaceutical companies and producers have fought back. Ronald Phillips, a spokesman for the Animal Health Institute, which represents animal drug companies, said the drugs make food safer and protect animals.

"In addition to making farmers more efficient, there is also a disease prevention role that that is playing," Phillips said. "Because when you stop that use, those animals get sick."

Sierra Club and the International Agricultural Trade Association had similar results from a smaller-scale survey also released Tuesday, in which it tested 200 whole chickens and 200 packages of ground turkey bought at stores in Des Moines, and Minneapolis.

Richard Lobb, spokesman for the National Chicken Council, said the surveys were misleading and did not show that producers have cut back on some antibiotics usage.

"There is nothing in either of those studies that I know of that actually ties resistance to usage of antibiotics in live animals," Lobb said.

The Food and Drug Administration regulates animal pharmaceuticals. It proposed guidelines in September for drug makers to rely on when determining whether new animal drugs would increase the problem of drug-resistant bacteria.

The agency also banned a poultry antibiotic two years ago because of evidence it makes people more vulnerable to becoming ill sick from drug-resistant campylobacter. But the drug, Baytril, is still on the market as its manufacturer, Bayer, fights the ban, arguing most illnesses aren't caused by tainted grocery-store chicken.

Pittle said Consumers Union wants Bayer to withdraw the drug. The organization also is asking the Agriculture Department to set up a program to test for campylobacter.

Steven Cohen, a department spokesman, said the agency is working on developing such a program.


Copyright 2002 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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