Antibiotics to be Reduced in UK Meat

Soil Association
Wednesday, 7th September 2016

The FSA have pledged to reduce antibiotic use in farms after the discovery of drug-resistant E.coli was found in UK supermarket chicken and pork.

The Food Standards Agency has pledged to cut the use of antibiotics on farms following the discovery of drug-resistant E.coli on UK supermarket chicken and pork meat. The testing was commissioned by the Alliance to Save our Antibiotics. The FSA has acknowledged the ‘significant threat’ to human health from antibiotic-resistant superbugs, and pledged to cut the use of antibiotics on farms.

Emma Rose from the Alliance to Save our Antibiotics said; “'It's fantastic the FSA has pledged to work with food businesses and retailers to reduce farm antibiotic use. With antibiotic resistance predicted to kill one person every three seconds by 2050, the FSA must commit to ending the routine mass medication of groups of animals. Such practices are putting our health at risk - and should have no place in the supply chains of responsible UK supermarkets.

“Worryingly and in contrast to the FSA response, the British Retail Consortium said yesterday that, “Mass treatment of animals is not legally permitted.” This is, of course, incorrect. In fact, mass medication accounts for about 88% of UK farm antibiotic use [1], and is likely to be par-for-the-course within supermarket supply chains. Upon learning that they are mistaken in their assertion, I expect the BRC to call for a ban on the routine mass medication of groups of animals immediately.” 

The Alliance to Save our Antibiotics is calling on people to write to all major supermarkets asking them to ban the routine use of antibiotics in their meat supply chains, and support farmers to make changes to their systems. Following the study, Waitrose updated their antibiotics policy to state that they are working towards significant year on year reductions in usage of all antibiotics, and have pledged to end the use of all ‘critically important’ antibiotics as soon as possible. Support the campaign here www.saveourantibiotics.org/supermarket-superbugs

Speaking about the campaign, Zac Goldsmith MP said; “For too long we have permitted the systematic overuse of antibiotics in our livestock systems. The recent findings of E.coli resistant to multiple key antibiotics on supermarket meat is yet another sign of the consequences of this complacency. Supermarkets, as the cornerstones of much of the UK meat and dairy supply chain, must now ask themselves whether they are doing everything in their power to avert this crisis.”

The Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics is made up of 58 supporting members which represent a further 500+ organisations. Members span a wide range of medical, health, agricultural, environmental, consumer and animal welfare sectors from across the EU. The Alliances was founded by Compassion in World Farming, the Soil Association and Sustain and supported by the Jeremy Coller Foundation.

The study

The study, commissioned by the Alliance to Save our Antibiotics and carried out by scientists at Cambridge University, looked at 189 UK-origin pig and poultry meat samples from the seven largest supermarkets in the UK (ASDA, Aldi, Coop, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose). It tested for the presence of E. coli which are resistant to the key antibiotics for treating E.coli urinary-tract and blood-poisoning infections in people. The highly resistant ESBL E.coli was found on chicken meat from all of the supermarkets. A fully referenced press release is available here.

A staggering 51% of the E.coli from pork and poultry samples were resistant to the antibiotic trimethoprim, which is used to treat over half of lower urinary-tract infections. In addition, 19% of the E. coli were resistant to gentamicin, a very important human antibiotic used to treat more serious upper urinary-tract infections.

The findings provide further evidence that the overuse of antibiotics used to mass medicate livestock on British farms is likely to be undermining the treatment of E.coli urinary-tract and blood-poisoning infections in humans. Some of the antibiotics tested are used in far greater quantities in livestock farming than in human medicine.

[1] Mass medication accounts for about 88% of UK farm antibiotic use (premixes, ie. in feed, and water medication together account for about 89%), see p29 of https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/477788/Optimised_version_-_VARSS_Report_2014__Sales___Resistance_.pdf ). The European Medicine Agency's report on farm antibiotic states that virtually all premixes and oral powders (for medication via water) is for mass medication: see p 26 of http://www.ema.europa.eu/docs/en_GB/document_library/Report/2015/10/WC500195687.pdf

Further resources

Organic meat and milk is healthier

The 'wild' farm: regenerative agriculture at Village Farm

Meat: A Benign Extravagance Only £5.00

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