The release of a new study by Consumer Reports, which found that antibiotic-free turkey products have lower levels of drug resistance than conventional products, sparked a wide variety of reactions yesterday. Depending on who you ask, the study is either alarming or offers evidence that turkey has an amazing food safety record.

The National Turkey Federation (NTF) sent out a statement saying it “strongly disputes the misleading findings” of the report, criticizing the alarming language used and blasting the small sample size. “Consumer Reports had the opportunity to foster a serious, thoughtful discussion about food safety, but instead it chose to sensationalize findings and mislead people,” said NTF President Joel Brandenberger.

“The article is misleading about the significance of its antibiotic findings,” said NTF in a press release. “One of the antibiotics for which it tested (ciprofloxacin) has not been used in poultry production for almost eight years, meaning resistance is highly unlikely to be from farm-animal use, and two other drug classes (penicillin and cephalosporin) are used infrequently in animal agriculture.  The fourth drug class tested by Consumer Reports, tetracycline, is used in animal agriculture, but is a largely insignificant antibiotic in human medicine, comprising only four percent of all antibiotics prescribed by physicians.”

Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Louise Slaughter (D-NY) both issued statements asking for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to invest in food safety and take stronger action.

“Consumer Reports’ findings reinforce why now is not the time to cut back on funding for our food safety system. And it is clear that we must do more to protect American consumers from dangerous pathogens in their food,” said DeLauro. “This includes strengthening the standards related to Salmonella in poultry products so that no family has to worry their dinner will make them sick. I will keep fighting for the public health, including improvements to these performance standards.”

“Another study, another confirmation that we are throwing away one of the greatest achievements in medical history: the development of the antibiotic,” said Rep. Slaughter, who is sponsoring legislation to restrict the use of certain medically important antibiotics in food animals. “We need to take action to confront this growing public health crisis before routine infections like strep throat become fatal.”

“It’s shameful that the FDA has abandoned its responsibility to protect the health and safety of Americans in favor of protecting an industry it is supposed to be regulating,” added Slaughter, in a statement. “The link between overuse of antibiotics in food-animals and antibiotic-resistant bacteria in our food is as clear as day, yet the FDA refuses to take action.”

As Food Safety News reported yesterday, the American Meat Institute responded by claiming the study actually highlights how safe turkey is.

“These findings are extremely encouraging,” said AMI Foundation Chief Scientist Betsy Booren.  “When food safety issues have been linked to ground turkey, they have typically been caused by either Campylobacter or Salmonella. Consumer Reports test results show that the food safety systems used by turkey processors are working to destroy these bacteria.”

“The U.S. meat and poultry industry supports the judicious use of antibiotics. The American Meat Institute recognizes that concerns exist and supports efforts now under way to phase out the use of antibiotics for growth promotion,” Booren said.

“While it is the industry’s goal to eliminate bacteria that can cause foodborne disease, there is simply no way to destroy all bacteria on all raw products.   Consumers should be reassured that all bacteria, whether antibiotic resistant or not, are destroyed by thorough cooking,” Booren added.  “The companies that comprise the meat and poultry industry are proud to provide a wide array of safe meat and poultry choices that are produced in various ways – from conventional, to natural to organic – to satisfy the needs and preferences of our customers.”