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Studies confirm fears about antibiotics in chicken

Scientists found that two-thirds of the 62 samples analysed had traces of antibiotics Keystone

Fears that chicken products from China contained antibiotics have been confirmed by tests in Switzerland.

This content was published on March 5, 2002 - 19:37

A week after the government banned chicken imports from China, tests by the three state-run laboratories in Basel and Zurich have found that the meat contains high levels of antibiotics.

Scientists found that almost two-thirds of the 62 samples analysed had traces of antibiotics, and almost half contained up to 30 times the legal limit of Enrofloxacin.

Nine samples showed traces of Chloramphenicol, which is banned for use in livestock in Switzerland and the European Union.

The findings have prompted the laboratories to test chicken samples from the EU and Switzerland.

They decided to test Chinese chicken samples following the EU's suspension of Chinese poultry imports earlier this year.

Their preliminary findings led the Swiss government followed suit - it suspended all imports of chicken from China on February 27.

Battery Farms

The antibiotics, Enrofloxacin and Chloramphenicol, are used to prevent disease spreading among chickens in crowded battery farms and they can help to fatten up the birds before slaughter.

Peter Brodmann of the Basel City Laboratory, which carried out some of the tests, told swissinfo that the two antibiotics are not destroyed during cooking, and that consuming them will allow certain harmful bacteria to gradually become resistant.

"Antibiotics used in animal production should be separated from [those] used for treating human diseases," he said. "If you have resistance because of animal production the antibiotics are of no use in human medicine."

Dr Rolf Etter from the Zurich laboratory, which carried out some of the tests, told swissinfo that he was surprised at the level of antibiotics present in the meat.

"It was more than we were used to. It is rare that we find antibiotics and other animal drug residuals in such high concentrations."

Antibiotics have not been used in Swiss chicken feed since January 1999, but if such drugs are needed to treat a sick animal, farmers have to have a veterinary prescription and log the drug's use in a record book.

Lifting the ban

China is a big producer of poultry and accounts for around 40 per cent of all chicken imports to Switzerland.

The Federal Veterinary Offices says that the suspension could be lifted if China can be brought into line with Swiss standards.

"It is necessary to get a certificate [to prove] that the products are tested for antibiotics and the quality is the same as we expect from our Swiss products," spokesman Hans Wies told swissinfo.

The government's ban was pre-empted by Switzerland's two biggest supermarkets - Migros and Coop - which pulled Chinese chicken products off their shelves a week earlier.

SV group, which provides catering services for hospitals and business canteens, has also since said that chicken from China would be struck off its menu.

by Sally Mules

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