World Animal Protection (WAP) urges UK Government to end the routine use of antibiotics on farm animals to prevent growing drug resistance problem
British supermarket pork could be infected with a potentially fatal ‘superbug’, according to a study by FERA Science (formerly the Food and Environment Research Agency).
The research, commissioned by World Animal Protection (WAP), found that 12% of sampled pork products, including joints, chops and mince, were infected with bacteria resistant to a 'last-resort' antibiotic used to treat serious human infections.
The contaminated products included those sold under the 'Red Tractor assured' label as well as RSPCA-assured, and even some 'organic' products. The testing suggests that the enterococci superbug is more widespread in UK meat than previously thought.
Lindsay Duncan, Farming Campaigns Manager at WAP, said that meat from labels with higher welfare practices, such as RSPCA-assured and organic, had a lower resistance to a smaller range of antibiotics. She said: “This could indicate that antibiotics are being overused in low-welfare farms to stop animals getting sick in poor conditions and exasperating the world’s drug resistance crisis.
“We’re calling on the UK Government to end the routine use of antibiotics on farm animals, as the EU has recently done, and to acknowledge that a reduction in animal product consumption is needed to address the countless issues caused by factory farming.”
Erik Millstone, Emeritus Professor of Science Policy in the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex, said that the survey results suggest that the problem of antimicrobial resistant (AMR) bacteria in our food supply has worsened.
He said: “In 2018, a UK government report estimated that approximately 1% of pork and poultry meat products were contaminated with antibiotic resistant bacteria. If the rate of increase continues, the consequences could be disastrous for public health. The government has adopted a few measures, but they are evidently insufficient.”
“UK sales of antibiotics to treat food-producing animals have halved since 2014 and account for less than 30% of the antibiotics used in the UK.”
However, Chris Lloyd, Secretary General of The Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture (RUMA) alliance, said that only 0.5% of antibiotics used in the pig sector now fall into the highest priority category for human use. A reduction of 95% since 2015.
He said: “UK sales of antibiotics to treat food-producing animals have halved since 2014 and account for less than 30% of the antibiotics used in the UK, despite more than a billion farm animals being reared in the UK every year. Antibiotic stewardship is now part of everyday language across UK agriculture.”
He added that it is not a ‘drive to zero use’. He said: “We have a duty of care to ensure that sick animals can get the treatment they need and antibiotics will sometimes be required, but we need to ensure these are administered responsibly on the premise of ‘as little as possible but as much as necessary’.”
The FSA takes a pragmatic approach. Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Robin May said: “The risk of people getting salmonella infections through handling and consuming contaminated meat is very low so long as good hygiene and cooking practices are followed.
“Consumers should strictly follow the cooking instructions on the pack so that any bacteria present on the food – including those that are AMR – are destroyed.”
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