RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Nowadays, farmers who raise livestock and poultry commonly use antibiotics. And as with humans, the practice of routinely giving animals these medicines has been under close scrutiny. That's because using antibiotics too often creates strains of bacteria that are resistant to treatment. And a new study on how much resistant bacteria is found in ground turkey, has led to more calls for action.
NPR's Allison Aubrey reports.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: If you've ever had food poisoning, you know how bad it can be. For Diana Goodpasture, of Akron, Ohio, she did not know what hit her when one night in June of 2011, after eating a grilled turkey burger, she got so sick she couldn't function
DIANA GOODPASTURE: It was terrible. It was the worst thing I ever experienced in my life.
AUBREY: At first she thought she had the flu. She didn't know she'd end up in the hospital for five days.
GOODPASTURE: And, you know, I kept thinking I'll get better, I'll get better. But unfortunately it wasn't the flu. It was salmonella poisoning which I had acquired from the ground turkey.
AUBREY: The tainted meat Diana had eaten was part of a batch that prompted a massive ground turkey recall in 2011. The death of one person was tied to the outbreak and more than 75 people got sick. Now, what made victims such as Diana Goodpasture's medical situation potentially more complicated, was that it turned out the specific strain of bacteria found in that meat, called Salmonella Heidelberg, was resistant to three kinds of antibiotics used in people.
This means these medicines would not have worked to fight off the infection. In Goodpasture's case, she was given Cipro - an antibiotic that did work.
GOODPASTURE: I was on IVs in hospital and then I was on tablets at home.
AUBREY: And thankfully she did recover. But her story raises important questions. Why have bacteria become resistant to medicines that used to be effective in wiping them out? Public health experts have pointed to the daily use of antibiotics in healthy farm animals as one contributor.
Gail Hansen is a veterinarian who works for the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming.
GAIL HANSEN: Livestock producers, poultry producers give low levels of antibiotics to healthy animals oftentimes just to get them to grow faster; and to them from getting disease or from diseases spreading.
AUBREY: The practice has become controversial, and that's why a new analysis by Consumer Reports has created a buzz. What Consumer Reports did was to purchase samples of raw, ground turkey at grocery stores around the country. They found that the meat that came from turkeys raised conventionally - with antibiotics - was significantly more likely to harbor antibiotic resistant bacteria, compared to turkey that came from animals raised organically without antibiotics. And some bacteria were resistant to multiple antibiotics.
Here's Urvashi Rangan of Consumer Reports.
URVASHI RANGAN: We think these findings underscore a very important recommendation that we don't need to feed healthy animals antibiotics, every day, to promote their growth and prevent disease.
AUBREY: The Food and Drug Administration has already called for more judicious use of antibiotics in farm animals. But as more studies document antibiotic resistance, the agency says one goal of their strategy is to phase out the use of the use of antibiotics for growth promotion. And turkey producers are paying attention.
Here's the industry's Joel Brandenberger. He's president of the National Turkey Federation
JOEL BRANDENBERGER: The National Turkey Federation has been cautiously supportive of FDA's strategy.
AUBREY: But Brandenberger says turkey producers do want to preserve the use of antibiotics to prevent disease.
Allison Aubrey, NPR News, Washington.
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