Levels of antimicrobial resistant (AMR) bacteria in pork and beef remain low, a comprehensive Food Standards Agency (FSA) survey has confirmed.
The agency has today published the results from the third year of an EU survey it commissioned to assess the frequency of certain types of AMR E. coli in raw UK retail pork and beef. The results show that these AMR levels remain ‘consistently low’.
The latest survey was carried out between January and December 2017 during which 314 beef and 310 pork samples were purchased from retail premises in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and tested for specific types of AMR E. coli.
Overall, the results showed less than 1% of the samples were positive for AmpC or ESBL E. coli (resistant to third generation cephalosporins), which was similar to the level found in Year 1 of the survey. However, one beef sample was found to be contaminated with an E. coli containing the mcr-1 gene which confers resistance to the antibiotic colistin.
This is thought to be the first discovery of an mcr-1 positive E. coli from retail beef in the UK, according to the FSA’s Head of Microbiological Risk Assessment, Paul Cook.
He said: “Although the meat came from outside the UK, further testing indicated no contamination on other samples and at this stage we have not been able to pinpoint the source of the contamination. However, a risk assessment has been carried out and we want to make it clear that the risk to public health is very low.”
He added: ‘Tackling AMR is a significant priority for the FSA and across UK Government. This survey allows us to monitor certain AMR E. coli trends over time, but also compares the UK situation with that of other EU Member States. In the recently published 2015 EU report, the UK compared favourably to results from other European countries.’
These findings have been collected on behalf of the European Commission as part of an EU- wide seven-year surveillance study. The survey will inform the FSA’s assessment of the risks and its next steps to reducing exposure to AMR.
The agency reiterated its advice that the risk of acquiring AMR related infections through the handling and eating of contaminated meat is ‘very low if you follow good hygiene and cooking practices’. “We advise that cooking, chilling, cleaning and avoiding cross-contamination when handling raw meat will help minimise the risk and spread of AMR,” it said.
NPA senior policy advisor Georgina Crayford said the association supported the FSA’s surveillance work on AMR E.coli in retail pork’.
“Regular monitoring of levels of AMR bacteria in pork products enables us to keep track of trends and helps us to better understand the risk to consumers, which remains low provided pork is cooked and handled hygienically.
“These results highlight that the prevalence of E.coli with resistance to the highest-priority critically important antibiotics on pork remains low, which is reassuring.
“UK pig farmers and vets have been working hard in recent years to minimise use of antibiotics in order to limit any further development of AMR. Antibiotic use in the pig sector reduced by more than half between 2015 and 2017, which highlights the commitment of the pork supply chain to address AMR.”
According to antibiotic use data submitted to the industry’s electronic medicine book (eMB), colistin use in UK pigs was 0.01mg/PCU in 2017, equating to less than 7kg of colistin across the pig herd. This represents one-hundredth of the European Medicines Agency’s lowest recommendation for colistin use by Member States.