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Further proof of an antibiotic apocalypse

News Section Icon Published 05/09/2016

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A new study commissioned by the Alliance to Save our Antibiotics, of which we are a founding member, has revealed extremely high levels of E.coli resistant to essential antibiotics, on British supermarket chicken and pork.

Soaring levels of antibiotic resistance

The study looked at 189 UK origin pig and poultry meat samples from the seven largest supermarkets in the UK.

The research found soaring levels of resistance in chicken meat, with 25% of samples testing positive for ESBL E.coli, a type of E.coli resistant to the ‘critically important’ modern cephalosporin antibiotics. This is four times higher than was found during a similar study in 2015. Modern cephalosporins are widely used for treating life-threatening E.coli blood poisoning in humans.

For the first time, the study also examined resistance to a range of other important antibiotics for treating E.coli infections. It found very high levels of resistance to two more highly important antibiotics.

A staggering 52% 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.

Trimethoprim is commonly used to mass-medicate whole groups of animals via their feed or water. Significantly more trimethoprim and gentamicin are used in farming than is used in human medicine.

Concerning findings

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.

Our CEO, Philip Lymbery, said: “This new study reveals our worst fears: without a drastic change in the over-use of antibiotics on factory farms, we could be facing a post-antibiotic era. We must no longer sacrifice animal welfare for the sake of producing cheap meat.”

Emma Rose, Campaigner for the Alliance to Save our Antibiotics, said: “These are very concerning findings which show that the level of antibiotic resistance on retail meat is even worse than we expected.

“Supermarkets must now shoulder some of the responsibility for this crisis. Food retailers must take urgent action to reduce antibiotic use in their supply chains, and publicly commit to polices which prohibit the routine mass-medication of groups of healthy animals.”

Urgent action is needed

In response to the testing, the Alliance is calling for urgent action from all seven major supermarkets to tackle the use of antibiotics in their supply chains, by immediately banning all routine preventative mass-medication of groups of animals, and dramatically curbing farm use of the ‘critically important’ antibiotics.

The Alliance is also calling on the UK Government to bring forward testing regimes to monitor the rise of antibiotic resistant E.coli and to assess the degree to which the resistance is of livestock-origin.

Hitting the headlines

The results of this study have already been generating a lot of media coverage, including:

The Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics is an alliance of health, medical, environmental and animal welfare groups working to stop the overuse of antibiotics in animal farming. It was founded by Compassion in World Farming, the Soil Association and Sustain in 2009, and is supported by the Jeremy Coller Foundation.


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