Study Finds No Antibiotic Resistant Genes In Meat Products Shipped To Groceries Interview with:

Dr.Noelle Noyes

Dr.Noelle Noyes

Noelle R Noyes PhD
Department of Clinical Sciences
Colorado State University, Fort Collins What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: The background for this study is the increasing concern about antibiotic resistant infections, and what we can do as a society to help minimize the development and spread of antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic resistance is a natural and ancient phenomenon in bacteria, but we can do things to bacterial populations to increase the amount of resistant bacteria and to promote the spread of resistant bacteria. It behooves us to try to identify specific practices that might be contributing to increases in antibiotic resistance, and to understand how we can change them to minimize risk. Towards this end, our study utilized new methods for investigating the ecology of antibiotic resistance throughout the process of beef production, from the time cattle enter feedlots through slaughter to the beef products that we eventually buy in the grocery store. Livestock production is thought to play a role in antibiotic resistance, although we have very little understanding of how important this role may be compared to other sectors like human hospitals, municipal wastewater treatment, daycare facilities, etc… We wanted to use new DNA sequence-based methods to try to get a high-level picture of what was happening with antibiotic resistance genes in feedlots and slaughterhouses. This high-level picture could then help us to understand how important cattle production may be in the overall ecology of antibiotic resistance, including the food chain and wider environment. What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Response: One major finding of our work was that we didn’t identify any antibiotic resistance genes in the meat products that were about to be shipped to retail grocery stores. This is a good thing in terms of food safety, and while somewhat surprising, makes sense when we considered the slaughter process itself. This process involves strict, technology-driven food safety measures to prevent pathogenic bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli O157:H7 from entering the food supply chain. While these measures are typically thought of in terms of reducing the risk of foodborne-illnesses like E. coli O157:H7, the measures themselves are not really specific to pathogens – they are things that kill most all types of bacteria, things like high heat and steam, organic acids and physical removal of bacteria through cutting off parts of the carcass. Our work shows that they also have the effect of drastically decreasing the total amount of bacteria and resistance genes on beef carcasses and products. So not only are they pathogen-reduction interventions, they are very likely resistance-reduction interventions as well. This should alleviate concerns that consumption of meat is a primary pathway for acquiring antibiotic resistance genes. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: We would like to improve upon the methods used in this research in order to gain an even better understanding of the complexity of antibiotic resistance within bacterial communities. Until very recently, it was not possible to gain a comprehensive picture of entire bacterial populations, and this limitation prevented us from truly understanding how bacteria and resistance genes were responding to different pressures from human and animal sources. Now that we have improved tools, we can begin to untangle this complex web of bacterial interactions, and hopefully better understand how to minimize the development and spread of antibiotic resistance. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: The topic of antibiotic resistance can get very contentious, especially when we start talking about things like antibiotic use in humans and animals and how that may be playing into antibiotic resistance. Unfortunately, antibiotic resistance is an extremely complex phenomenon, and therefore no “silver bullet” exists. The “law of unintended consequences” is very fitting when it comes to antibiotic resistance; in other words, while it may be comforting to enact radical changes in the hopes of combatting antibiotic resistance, such measures may have unintended consequences that themselves are harmful. Given this, it is important that we continue to conduct scientifically rigorous studies while taking advantage of the latest technologies and techniques to further our understanding of antibiotic resistance. Based on this understanding, we should then strive to implement effective interventions in a holistic manner, taking into account public health, animal health, environmental health and the ability of agriculture to produce enough safe, affordable food for a rapidly expanding population. Thank you for your contribution to the community


Resistome diversity in cattle and the environment decreases during beef production

Noelle R Noyes Xiang YangLyndsey M LinkeRoberta JMagnuson, Adam Dettenwanger, Shaun Cook, Ifigenia Geornaras, Dale E Woerner, Sheryl P Gow, Tim A McAllister, Hua Yang, JaimeRuik, Kenneth L Jones, Christina A Boucher, Paul S Morley Keith EBelk

DOI: Published March 8, 2016

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Noelle R Noyes PhD (2016). Study Finds No Antibiotic Resistant Genes In Meat Products Shipped To Groceries

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