U.S. industry leaps to defend safety of poultry meat

Responding to study | Consumer Reports says it finds bacteria in chicken

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Reuters) — U.S. poultry producers have dramatically reduced the presence of harmful bacteria in poultry meat, a trade group said while defending the industry’s food safety record.

“The numbers tell us we’re making tremendous progress,” the National Chicken Council said in a statement that described poultry as overwhelmingly safe to eat.

It pointed to steps taken by producers and processors to reduce the presence of salmonella bacteria, which can cause food-borne illness.

The trade group contested the conclusions of a Consumer Reports nationwide sampling of raw chicken breasts for potentially harmful types of bacteria, which was released in late December.

Consumer Reports included three types of bacteria that the government does not consider to be risky, and declared some antibiotic-resistant bacteria to be “superbugs” when effective medicines may still be available to fight them, the NCC said.

It said prevalence of salmonella on chicken carcasses is down 55 percent in five years, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture tests. As well, the latest USDA quarterly report said 2.6 percent of carcasses tested positive for the bacteria, well within USDA targets.

Consumer Reports said half of its samples contained bacteria resistant to three or more antibiotics and 11 percent contained two types of bacteria with multi-drug resistance. The magazine said it tested for six types of potentially harmful bacteria.

Meanwhile, the Organic Consumers Association said the government should impose a mandatory ban on non-medical use of antibiotics in livestock instead of its plan for a three-year voluntary phase-down.

Chicken is the most widely consumed meat in the United States. Americans are forecast to eat nearly 84 pounds per person this year, compared to 53 lb. of beef and 48 lb. of pork.