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Consumer protection in Hong Kong

Call for regulation after antibiotic resistant superbug found in 60 per cent of tested Hong Kong chickens

Consumer Council urges government to review current legislation on the use of antibiotics in food animals and weed out abuse by farmers

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 December, 2016, 1:48pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 December, 2016, 10:33pm

Over 60 per cent of tested chicken samples available in the local market were found to contain a superbug resistant to antibiotics commonly prescribed to treat ­infectious diseases, a Consumer Council study has found.

The body urged the government to review current legislation on the use of antibiotics in ­animals and weed out abuse by farmers, but insisted there was no need to stay away from chicken.

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The council, which used guidelines from US and European agricultural and food safety authorities gathered 100 chicken samples that had either been slaughtered on the day, chilled or frozen to test for bacteria which produce extended spectrum beta-lactamases (ESBL).

ESBL-producing bacteria have been found to be resistant to popular antibiotics such as penicillin and even third-generation cephalosporin, which the World Health Organisation described as a critically important antibiotic to combat serious health threats.

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A total of 62 samples returned positive results, including all six samples of fresh chicken that were slaughtered on the day. By contrast, only one third of the frozen samples carried the bacteria.

“What’s worth noting is that the freezing process does not kill bacteria. But the chicken might be washed and processed beforehand, which may reduce the ­bacteria level,” said Michael Hui King-man, chairman of the council’s publicity committee.

Antibiotics must only be prescribed by veterinarians to treat diseases, and not for prevention or growth
Michael Hui King-man, Consumer Council

Breaking down the results by their source markets, 96 per cent of local samples carried ESBL-producing bacteria, compared to 15 per cent from North America and 11 per cent from Australia and New Zealand.

“Antibiotics must only be prescribed by veterinarians to treat diseases, and not for prevention or growth,” Hui said.

The watchdog urged the High-level Steering Committee on Antimicrobial Resistance, formed by the government in May, to review current legislation.

Professor David Hui Shui-cheong, one of four independent members on the committee, agreed there was a need to clamp down on farm antibiotic abuse.

“Antibiotics prescribed in food animals ultimately go back to the food chain,” he said.

The respiratory medicine ­expert said farmers often relied on the drug to lower the risk of the livestock getting sick, but this might increase the chance of the animals developing resistance.

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But housewives in a wet ­market in North Point were less worried, including a Mrs Chow who said a simple solution was to thoroughly cook the meat.

“I have experience from years of cooking. There is pesticide in vegetables and heavy metals in fish ... How do you avoid everything?” she said.

A number of local suppliers snubbed the test results, including those for “Kamei” and “King Healthy” chickens. They said the testing lacked credibility and ­reserved the right to take legal ­action if they faced losses.