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Academic tackles question: Is the food you eat killing you?

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An international expert in food safety will tackle the question of whether the food we eat is killing us as part of Curtin University’s annual Aileen Plant Memorial Lecture.

Professor John Threlfall, an expert in microbial genetics, will outline the latest tactics being employed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to combat the increasing problem of antibiotic resistance in the animals we eat for his lecture, Antibiotic resistance in zoonotic bacterial enteric pathogens – a world-wide problem with no solution?

Bacteria such as salmonella and campylobacter (that can cause gastro) are present in cattle, sheep and chickens. These animals may be fed antimicrobials used by vets to treat the infections. This process can lead to the bacteria becoming resistant to the drugs.

So, when we eat the meat, we may get sick from the bacteria, and the antimicrobials prescribed by the doctor to treat the infection are no longer effective.

Professor Threlfall, the Health Protection Agency Program Manager for the European Union Reference Laboratories Options Project (EURLOP), said resistant bacterial strains had been found in all major food-producing animals, most frequently in live chickens and chicken meat, eggs and other poultry products.

But he said the bacteria strains had also been found in pigs and cattle and meat products from these animals.

“What is increasingly worrying is how rapidly antimicrobial resistance is accumulating and accelerating in bacteria that cause infections in people and animals,” Professor Threlfall said.

“This presents a growing problem to both human and veterinary medicine.”

Professor Threlfall said the problem had been addressed locally in the UK, with national restrictions on the use of certain antimicrobials in food-producing animals.

Internationally, there had been bans placed on the use of antibiotics for growth promotion in European Member States.

“Nevertheless the problem is not diminishing and almost inevitably the introduction of a ‘new’ antibiotic is followed in a very short time by its appearance in pathogenic bacteria, both of human and animal origin,” he said.

In his lecture, Professor Threlfall will give an overview of WHO’s new initiative to tackle antibiotic resistance in the food chain, the effectiveness of the control measures and whether new approaches should be considered – and if they will be effective.

The free lecture is on Thursday 10 November at Bankwest Theatre from 5pm.

Notes to editors:

The Aileen Plant Memorial Lecture honours the late Aileen Plant who was Professor of International Health and Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Biosecurity Cooperative Research Centre (ABCRC) for Emerging Infectious Disease at Curtin. At the height of the SARS epidemic Professor Plant was invited by WHO to lead its investigation in Vietnam. In 2003, the Vietnamese Government awarded her the National Medal of Honour.


Kristy Jones, Public Relations, Curtin University
Tel: 08 9266 4241, Mobile: 0401 103 532, Email:

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