Alert on drug residues in meat

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The Independent Online
Just when you thought it was safe to start eating meat again, a report published yesterday warns of another hazard - antibiotic residues in British pork and turkey.

Overuse of antibiotics in the rearing of livestock could ultimately mean there is no effective treatment for humans suffering from related infections, Which? magazine warns, as bacteria develop a resistance to familiar drugs.

Tests carried out by the Consumers' Association, and similar organisations in 15 countries, have revealed traces of antibiotics in European pork, turkey, veal and chicken.

The study reveals that Britain had the largest proportion of turkeys affected (7 per cent) and the third largest proportion of pork (4 per cent), after the Republic of Ireland (17 per cent cent) and Greece (8 per cent). No veal or beef from Britain was tested and none of its chicken samples was affected, however.

Farmers use antibiotics both to treat infection and to promote growth in animals, but their use as growth promoters has been restricted. In practice, however, closely related drugs are used in this way.

The presence of antibiotic residues in food not only increases the likelihood of resistance, but can also affect people who are allergic to antibiotics, and very high doses of one type of sulphonamide have been linked to thyroid cancer.

Sue Davies, the Consumers' Association's acting principal researcher, said: "Antibiotic- resistant strains of bacteria are becoming more common. In 1995, over 87 per cent of one particular strain of salmonella was resistant to five common antibiotics

The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food last night denied reports that a detailed audit report on the meat industry last year, which warned that abbatoirs were admitting dirty animals, was suppressed because of potential damage to the industry.