By KEVIN WALKER
WASHINGTON, D.C. — National Turkey Federation (NTF) President Joel Brandenberger sounded more than a little exasperated last week, fending off charges in a magazine article that ground turkey contains alarming amounts of pathogens, such as generic E. coli, as well as residues of antibiotics.
“It’s gotten a lot of media coverage,” Brandenberger said of a Consumer Reports article that makes various claims about what’s in ground turkey, and what it means. “It’s been a different kind of week.
They chose to take some results that would not have been surprising or disturbing to scientists and sensationalized them.”
The Consumer Reports article, from April 30, said that in its first ever lab analysis of ground turkey products, the magazine found potential disease-causing organisms in most of the samples it tested. It stated that many of the samples also proved resistant to more than three antibiotic drug classes. It tested 257 samples purchased from stores nationwide.
“Our findings strongly suggest that there is a direct relationship between the routine use of antibiotics in animal production and increased antibiotic resistance in bacteria on ground turkey,” said magazine scientist Urvashi Rangan. “It’s very concerning that antibiotics fed to turkeys are creating resistance to antibiotics used in human medicine. Humans don’t consume antibiotics every day to prevent disease and neither should healthy animals. Prudent use of antibiotics should be required to stem the public health crisis generated from the reduced effectiveness of antibiotics.”
But Brandenberger said that antibiotics fed to turkeys and poultry are used prudently and that there is no crisis.
“There’s no settled science that says antibiotics used on the farm have anything to do with antibiotic resistance in humans,” he stated. “Pig and turkey barns are not unhealthy environments. There are diseases that are highly likely to appear in turkeys and poultry.”
Antibiotics are given to animals in accordance with federal guidelines, he added. He went on to state that most of the antibiotics residue found in ground turkey are not those used in human medicine.
As for pathogens examined, the article stated that it tested for five of them, including enterococcus, E. coli. Staphylococcus aureus, salmonella and campylobacter. It found that 90 percent of the samples had one or more of the five bacteria; that bacteria present on products labeled no antibiotics, organic, or raised without antibiotics were resistant to fewer antibiotics than those present in conventional turkey products.
It also found bacteria “related to fecal contamination” on the majority of samples. Sixty-nine percent of ground turkey samples contained enterococcus, and 60 percent had E. coli.
But Brandenberger said that the conclusions the article drew from these results are misleading and raise alarm bells unnecessarily.
“What was not explained to the reader is that only two (of the pathogens) are foodborne bacteria, salmonella and campylobacter. There was miniscule amounts of salmonella and no campylobacter,” he said. “E. coli is everywhere. It’s on you, it’s on me. Most food experts would say those were really good (test) results.”
The NTF also pointed to a statement put out by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on April 22 in response to a report with similar findings by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). The EWG report discusses both bacteria as well as antimicrobial resistance. The FDA describes the report as an oversimplification of government data that provides “misleading conclusions. We do not believe that EWG fully considered important factors that put these results in context.
“Based on a thorough review of the available scientific information, FDA has created a strategy for the judicious use of medically-important antimicrobials in food-producing animals that states their use should be limited to situations where the drugs are necessary for ensuring animal health, and done so under veterinary guidance.”