Results from a study conducted by Consumer Reports and released on Tuesday found that of 198 pork samples, 69% tested positive for yersinia enterocolitica, a bacterium that has the potential to cause food poisoning.
The report comes on the heels of a Consumers Union campaign that points to antibiotic use in agriculture for creating antibiotic resistant "superbugs." Consumers Union – Consumer Reports' public policy group – released the campaign this summer, calling for a reform of the way antibiotics are used in agriculture.
Tuesday's release of the new study ties the bacteria presence to antibiotic resistance, noting that "the majority of the yersinia and as well as a substantial portion of several other bacteria detected were resistant to medically important antibiotics consumer reports tested."
The study also included a separate test for the non-antibiotic drug ractopamine, which is used to promote leanness in hogs. Approval of the drug in importing countries has been a hot topic recently, as it continues to be banned for pork imports to China and Taiwan, specifically.
In July, several countries lifted a ban on the drug's use in cattle, when the Codex Alimentarius Commission – a U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization entity – approved the drug and set out to establish maximum residue levels.
National Pork Producers Council President R.C. Hunt said "Consumers Union resorted to sensationalism because the 'science' it used wouldn't stand up to even elementary scrutiny" and was "another attempt by an advocacy group to push a social agenda that is not based on science and one that, if successful, would take choice away from consumers."
NPPC criticized several aspects of the Consumers Union findings, including the sample number, the bacterium found and the inclusion of ractopamine data.
NPPC observed that Yersinia enterocolitica has more than 50 serotypes and several biotypes, only a few of which are pathogenic and, thus, could cause illness.
"Consumers Union either did not conduct, or chose not to report the results of, tests to determine if the bacteria it found were pathogenic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports a low number of U.S. cases, and USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service does not test pork for it," NPPC said.
NPPC also said Consumers Union cast asperations on the FDA approval process for animal drugs by referring to European concerns over ractopamine.
Additionally, NPPC said the number of samples tested does not provide a nationally informative estimate of the true prevalence of the cited bacteria on meat.
"This report was obviously written to support Consumers Union's claim that antibiotics use in food animal production is the major cause of antibiotic resistance, or treatment failures, in human medicine," Hunt said. "The article and Consumers Union disregarded numerous peer-reviewed risk assessments that show any risk to human health from antibiotics use in food animals is negligible."