NCC has dismissed as a “scare tactic” a study conducted by a law firm showing that raw chicken can test positive for the presence of a bacterium–Staphylococcus–that is also commonly found in humans. The law firm, Marler Clark of Seattle, Washington, specializes in foodborne illness litigation against food producers and vendors.

“The Marler Clark survey simply reiterates the well-known fact that raw chicken is a fresh, natural product that can have a variety of microorganisms present but is safe to consume when handed and cooked in the traditional and recommended manner,” NCC said in a statement.  “The results of the lawyers’ study are not substantially different from the results of many studies published in the scientific literature.  The survey seems to be more of a scare tactic than an attempt to add to scientific knowledge.”  Studies have shown that about one-third of humans carry Staph in their nasal passages, NCC noted.

The Marler Clark study, conducted by a laboratory based in the Seattle area, followed closely on the heels of a similar study financed by the Pew Charitable Trusts, sponsor of a report critical of mainstream animal agriculture.  The Pew study was directed by Lance Price, author of other studies critical of the industry.

“In the United States, billions of food animals are raised in densely stocked CAFOs, where antibiotics are routinely administered in feed and water for extended periods to healthy animals,” Price and his co-authors wrote in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.

They wrote that they found Staphylococcus aureus on 77 percent of turkey samples purchased at supermarkets; 42 percent of pork samples; 41 percent of chicken; and 37 percent of beef.  Some of Staph germs were also resistant to one or more antibiotics, they wrote.

“This study fails to account for the fact that Staph bacteria on raw food would be killed by cooking,” NCC Science Advisor Dr. Scott Russell noted.  “If Staph are present on cooked food and are then ingested–which sometimes happens on a wide variety of foods–human illness is caused by ingestion of the toxins produced by the bacteria, not by the bacteria themselves.  Toxins are not treated with antibiotics, so the antibiotic-resistant nature of Staph is not relevant with regard to poultry.”