Study finds antibiotic-resistant bacteria in UK pork

25 of 103 samples tested positive
calendar icon 8 July 2022
clock icon 2 minute read

According to a report from World Animal Protection, pork products sold at UK supermarkets contain antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which they say indicates the overuse of medicines on farms.

Conducted by researchers at Fera Sciences and World Animal Protection, the study examined 103 meat samples from major UK supermarkets and online outlets finding antibiotic-resistant bacteria in 25 products.

“The samples showed that meat from labels with higher welfare practices such as RSPCA Assured and Organic/Soil Association had a lower resistance to a smaller range of antibiotics and labels with no assurance scheme or Red Tractor Assured had higher resistance,” said Lindsay Duncan, World Animal Protection farming campaigns manager.

“This indicates that antibiotics are being overused in low welfare farms to stop animals getting sick in poor conditions and exacerbating the world’s drug resistance crisis," she added. "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."

Cóilín Nunan scientific adviser to the Soil Association and to the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics said the significantly lower levels of antibiotic resistance from organic and RSPCA pork is most likely due to lower levels of antibiotic use.

“Several studies suggest that antibiotic use in organic pigs is far lower than for intensively farmed pigs, although better data is still needed," said Nunan. "Much higher welfare standards can reduce animal stress and disease and eliminate the need for most antibiotic use in pig farming."

The World Health Organization has estimated that antibiotic resistance will be the leading cause of death globally by 2050 with a total economic cost of £66 trillion (USD$ 79 trillion). According to a 2021 study in Science, 75% of the world’s antibiotics is used on farm animals to prevent them getting sick in poor conditions and this is placing a burden on health services.

The UK has until recently been a world leader in antibiotic reduction but is now falling behind the EU by not introducing crucial legislation that will reduce the risks of antimicrobial resistance and raise the welfare for millions of farmed animals - 70% of which live on commercial farms.

World Animal Protection is calling for the UK government to end the growth of large-scale farming, ban routine use of antibiotics on herds of healthy animals and enforce higher farmed animal welfare standards.

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