The Health and Welfare Ministry has detected antibiotic-resistant bacteria in imported chicken meat that can sicken people with weakened immune systems, ministry officials said Thursday.

The intestinal bacteria, called vancomycin-resistant enterococus, was found in six chicken samples among the 20 imported from France, Norway and Thailand, the officials said.

The ministry selected the samples for analysis from 120 samples imported from the three countries plus Brazil, China and the United States, they said. The ministry also checked 128 domestic chicken samples, but none was tainted with VRE.

Japan imported 613,000 tons of chicken in fiscal 1996, which ended in March 1997, up from about 530,000 tons in the preceding year, while the nation’s domestic production totaled about 1.24 million tons, down from about 1.27 million tons.

Vancomycin, an antibiotic, is the only drug known to kill intestinal bacteria that causes in-hospital infections such as methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). But it is ineffective against VRE, which is believed traceable to an additive in chicken feed that prevents a chicken disease.

Chemical experts say the additive, called avoparcin, has a chemical structure similar to that of vancomycin and is resistant to the antibiotic. France, Norway and Thailand are known to have mixed avoparcin in chicken feed.

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