News 604 views update:Jan 12, 2010

NZ to review antibiotic resistant bacteria

The New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) has embarked on a new project as part of efforts to keep down levels of antibiotic resistant bacteria in the human food chain.

Antimicrobial resistant (AMR) bacteria, which do not respond to antibiotics, are increasingly associated with human illness and death. While the large majority of cases are due to person-to-person transmission, there is also a potential for transmission via the food chain.

“There is currently little published data regarding levels of AMR bacteria in food for human consumption in New Zealand and there is no systematic monitoring of their prevalence among animal bacteria,” public health principal advisor Donald Campbell says.

To address this gap, NZFSA has commissioned a baseline survey of antimicrobial resistance in the New Zealand food chain. It doesn’t look at all food animal species, but focuses on freshly dressed carcasses of calves, pigs and broiler poultry in New Zealand abattoirs and processing plants. The survey will look specifically at Campylobacter, Salmonella, E. Coli and Enterococcus bacteria. “The goal is to establish how much resistance to important and commonly used antibiotic drugs there is among these particular bugs,” Dr Campbell says.

The survey is funded by the Ministry of Health and will be carried out by ESR. It will run across 12 calendar months to allow for seasonal fluctuation in the numbers of livestock slaughtered and the potential occurrence of resistance. Dr Campbell says the results of the survey will help NZFSA decide whether there is a need to set up an ongoing monitoring programme and whether or not specific risk management actions are needed.

The use of antibiotics to prevent disease in animals and plants that are then used to produce food can potentially affect public health by creating a reservoir of resistant bacteria or the genes. This resistance can be passed on to human disease-causing bacteria, both directly and indirectly. Factors that help prevent AMR bacteria from developing and spreading include sensible use of antibiotics and effective infection control practices, especially in human healthcare.

Natalie Berkhout

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