Consumer Reports’ much-promoted “report” on meat and antibiotic resistance provides no new information of value to consumers beyond the fact that there are a wide variety of safe choices available on the marketplace for consumers to select, the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) said Wednesday in a response to Consumer Reports’ latest article on its antibiotics series.

It’s likely no coincidence Consumer Reports posted a new antibiotics story on its website in the midst of the first-ever World Antibiotics Awareness Week Nov. 16-22 which aims to increase awareness of global antibiotic resistance and encourage best practices.

As NAMI has pointed out in response to Consumer Reports’ previous tests of meat and poultry cited in this story, it is nearly impossible to draw conclusions on antibiotic resistance and its relationship to production methods because Consumer Reports does not provide any detailed data to support its assertions, NAMI officials said in a statement it released Wednesday.

“It is disappointing that Consumer Reports continues to perpetuate myths about ‘superbugs’ on meat and poultry products,” Betsy Booren, Ph.D., NAMI vice president of scientific affairs, said. “Bacteria develop resistance in nature in response to a variety of threats. Just because bacteria are resistant to one or more antibiotics does not mean they are superbugs and this is a fact that has been affirmed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“More meaningful information would indicate whether pathogenic bacteria are resistant to certain types of antibiotics, but Consumer Reports has never shared this information publicly,” Booren said.

The Consumer Reports article said, “… nowhere are the [antibiotic] drugs more inappropriately employed than in the meat and poultry industries. About 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in the U.S. are given to animals raised for food – including hogs, cattle, chickens and turkeys.”

Pork and beef industry officials have said the often-quoted 80 percent figure is erroneous.

“The most recent data from the Food and Drug Adminstration show that more than 32 million pounds of antibiotics were sold for use in food animals in the U.S. in 2013 – up 17 percent from just four years earlier,” the Consumer Reports article continued. “Recently, several meat and poultry producers, such as Tyson, and restaurant chains, like McDonald’s and Subway, have pledged to reduce the production or sale of meat or poultry from animals raised with antibiotics.”

In addition to Consumer Reports’ recent articles on antibiotic use in livestock, NAMI also took issue with a recent American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) report that cited “overuse” of antibiotics in animal agriculture as a major cause of antimicrobial-resistant infections in humans.

“We are disappointed that AAP relied on old data and outdated policies and practices in reaching their conclusions,” Barry Carpenter, NAMI CEO, said. “We are also surprised that AAP cites a misleading statistic that 80 percent of antibiotics are used in livestock – a claim that has been debunked many times, including in our own Media MythCrusher.” 

The National Pork Board Wednesday reiterated the proactive steps the U.S. pork industry has taken to ensure responsible antibiotic use on pig farms in the wake of the Consumer Reports articles and AAP report. Pork industry leaders say calls by various organizations to end antibiotic use on farms are misguided and would have a negative impact on food safety.

“We understand people are confused about the role of antibiotics in meat production and, unfortunately, recently released reports only add to that confusion,” Dr. Jennifer Koeman, a veterinarian and director of Producer and Public Health at National Pork Board, said. “It’s simple – when you produce healthy livestock, you get safe food. The meat you eat is safe due to Food and Drug Administration rules on antibiotics and U.S. Department of Agriculture testing of meat.”

The pork industry has collectively embraced USDA and FDA efforts to phase out the use of antibiotics for growth promotion and, in turn, to limit them to treatment and prevention against the spread of disease. The National Pork Board said it is implementing a three-point plan of action focused on five research priorities, shaping educational outreach to pig farmers and broadly sharing information with the retail and foodservice industries and pork consumers.

“Pig farmers have an obligation to use medicine responsibly and as needed to treat or prevent illness in pigs,” Dr. Koeman said. “That’s why pig farmers also work closely with veterinarians to decide when and how to use antibiotics to protect a pig’s health.”

In its most recent story, Consumer Reports mentions no specific antibiotic resistant bacteria besides methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) which is not considered a foodborne pathogen, NAMI said. In Consumer Reports’ previous tests of meat and poultry products that form the basis for this report, the bacteria most often found such asEnterococcus and generic E. coli are commonly found in the environment and are not considered pathogenic bacteria.

According to FDA, it is inaccurate and alarmist to define bacteria resistant to one, or even a few, antimicrobials as “superbugs” if these same bacteria are still treatable by other commonly used antibiotics, NAMI said. This is especially misleading when the bacteria doesn’t cause foodborne disease and has natural resistances, as is true for Enterococcus, NAMI said.

“The most important finding from Consumer Reports’ work that is continually glossed over is the strong safety of meat and poultry products, Dr. Booren said. “No matter the production method, consumers can be confident they are getting a safe, wholesome product.”

On behalf of more than 60,000 pig farmers across the nation, the National Pork Board said it is leading the effort and dialogue around responsible antibiotic use.

“Our efforts are focused on sharing a story of innovation and excellence in pork production,” Derrick Sleezer, National Pork Board president and a pig farmer from Cherokee, Iowa, said. “Our farmers are experts in animal care and sustainable farming. And that expertise is needed to maintain our track record of responsible antibiotic use with a goal to protect the health and well-being of people, pigs and the planet.”