26 Apr 2013

Campaigners warn of antibiotic resistance dangers

2:05 pm on 26 April 2013

Food safety campaigners say New Zealand's blase approach to monitoring antibiotic resistance in agriculture could lead to superbugs that will affect humans.

One campaigner, Sue Kedgley, says the practice of mass-feeding antibiotics to livestock such as pigs and poultry in New Zealand will lead to bacteria increasing their resistance to antibiotics.

She says the danger is that antibiotic resistant bacteria will pass to people when, for example, they are preparing a chicken for cooking.

But the Poultry Industry Association says such claims are alarmist.

The association says superbugs which have emerged in New Zealand to date have been in hospitals where resistance has been to human antibiotics.

It says poultry are susceptible to gut infections so treatment with antibiotics is common, and their use is controlled by vets.

The main antibiotic used, zinc bacitracin, is not a human spectrum antibiotic and is approved for use in New Zealand by the Ministry for Primary Industries.

In 2009-10, MPI testing of antibiotic resistant bacteria levels in livestock suggested New Zealand is as good as, if not better than Denmark, which is considered a world leader in the field.

However, Denmark, along with the rest of what is now the European Union, banned zinc bacitracin 15 years ago, due to its belief it could cause severe problems in human medicine by building resistance to the classes of antibiotics that are considered mankind's last line of defence to multi-resistant bacteria.

Green Party food spokesperson Mojo Mathers says unlike Denmark, which has an annual monitoring for antibiotic resistance, New Zealand does not have regular checking.

Food Safety Minister Nikki Kaye says the next round of antibiotic resistance testing will take place in five years time.