The Consumer Council has warned consumers against eating chicken and other food items that are not thoroughly cooked after tests on samples of chicken meat sold locally showed widespread presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria or superbugs.
In a report released on Thursday, the council said tests conducted on 100 chicken samples showed that 62 percent contained ESBL (extended-spectrum beta-lactamase) producing bacteria called Enterobacteriaceae, which are resistant to antibiotics, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
Among those infected, 96 percent were local samples. Of the 16 samples said to be organic, 6 were found to have Enterobacteriaceae.
All six samples of chicken brought to the market on the day they were slaughtered, or 100 percent, were found to contain Enterobacteriaceae, while the ratios for live chicken freshly slaughtered on site and chilled chicken were 92 and 70 percent, respectively, according to the report.
The council conducted the tests after studies showed that 20-50 percent of cases of infection from ESBL-producing bacteria could have come from chicken that people regularly eat.
Antibiotic-resistant bacteria have become a global threat to public health, the council said.
It cited a warning from the World Health Organization which said the world is headed for a “post-antibiotic era” in which common infections can become untreatable because of the abuse of antibiotics in medical treatment and farming.
Dr. Ho Pak-leung, director of the Carol Yu Center for Infection at the University of Hong Kong, said bad bacteria in the intestines could lead to urethritis, or inflammation of the urethra, for women and prostatitis, or infection of the prostate, for men.
The council advised Hong Kong people to change their habit of cooking chicken “just right” to maintain its tender texture.
Instead, they should cook food thoroughly and be vigilant when buying, cleaning, storing and cooking chicken to minimize the risk of contamination, it said.
The council also urged the government to review current legislation on the use of antibiotics in animals to prevent abuse by farmers.
However, it said it was not necessary for consumers to stay away from chicken.
In a response to the Consumer Council report, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department said a high-level steering committee on antimicrobial resistance has been set up earlier this year to look into the issue, while the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said its inspections have not found any cases related to excessive storage or abuse of antibiotics since January last year.
Yuen Kwok-yung, a member of the FEHD steering committee, suggested the government require poultry farmers to get written approval from veterinarians before they purchase antibiotics for their stocks.
Several chicken suppliers, such as Wongkin Chicken and Kamei Chicken, said the council’s report was unfair and misleading and should not have been released since the laboratory commissioned to conduct tests is not recognized by the government.
Lee Leung Kei, chief supervisor of the New Territories Chicken Breeders Association, also questioned the report, saying abuse of antibiotics by farmers is quite impossible because doing so is very costly.
[Chinese vesion 中文版]
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