Poultry chickens

The Food Standards Agency is to launch a major new retail survey on the prevalence of antimicrobial resistance in supermarket meat.

In his first report to the FSA board today (21 June), the regulator’s new CEO Jason Feeney said the survey would aim to “fill the evidence gap” in understanding antimicrobial resistance (AMR), which was identified by the FSA last year. 

The project will study the presence of antibiotic-resistant strains of campylobacter in supermarket-sold chicken and salmonella in retail pork, in addition to selected commensal bacteria such as e.coli, klebsiella, and enterococcus.

It is due to start between August and September and will sample about 300 retail chicken samples and 300 retail pork samples across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, alongside 40 retail chicken and 40 retail pork samples in Scotland.

Market share data will be used to determine the sampling plan, which will include both UK-produced and imported meat, while the study would also complement a survey already being undertaken at EU level, Feeney said.

“The main outcome will be to support future ongoing surveillance work on AMR, monitor trends in emerging risks from AMR and to help inform our risk assessment on AMR in food,” he added. The results of the survey will be published as part of the FSA’s final report on AMR in early 2018.

The FSA admitted last September there were “significant” evidence and knowledge gaps in its understanding of the threat of AMR to the food chain. Further data was needed on the prevalence, levels, and movement of resistant non-pathogenic microbes and genes throughout the food supply chain, said chief scientific adviser Guy Poppy.

An FSA-commissioned report by the Royal Veterinary College, published in November, reinforced this view by suggesting there was a lack of data regarding AMR in British-produced food and food imported to the UK.

“Further efforts should be made to develop surveillance programmes that will identify trends in the prevalence of AMR bacteria in foods, and thereby provide a framework for assessing potential risks associated with exposure to such hazards among British consumers,” the report said.

The announcement of the FSA’s survey was welcomed as “important work” by the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture (RUMA) coalition.

“The effect of any emergence of resistance genes within food producing animals is still largely unknown and the subject of wide speculation,” said RUMA chairman Gwyn Jones. “We have been reassured by the FSA that this work should not be likened to the campylobacter initiative, in that it is not about league tables or apportioning blame.”

However, Jones added RUMA was concerned the FSA’s data “may be misreported in the media or misrepresented by campaigners, soaking up resources and potentially hampering the current progress the farming industry is making on reducing and refining use of antibiotics”, he warned.

“We have requested a meeting with the FSA to discuss this further and are confident we will be able to support this work while ensuring that AMR remains a pre-competitive issue on which the whole food chain can collaborate.”

His comments were echoed by British Poultry Council CEO Richard Griffiths, who said it was “crucial” the survey remained non-competitive.