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Resistance and Responsibility: Antibiotic Use in Supermarket Supply Chains

News Section Icon Published 18/11/2021

AB Resistance & Responsibility

Today (18th November), to mark the start of World Antimicrobial Awareness Week, the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics, of which Compassion is a founding member, has launched a new report - Resistance and Responsibility: Antibiotic Use in Supermarket Supply Chains.

The report reveals that whilst the UK’s ten leading supermarkets – Aldi, Asda, Co-op, Iceland, Lidl, Morrisons, M&S, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose each have a policy aimed at ending routine preventative antibiotic use in their supply chains, the majority of them only apply these policies to some, or all of their own-brand products.

This means that frozen produce, ready-made meals, ingredients and branded produce have no restrictions on antibiotic use, other than minimum legal standards. As a result, there is no reliable way for shoppers to avoid buying food produced with irresponsible antibiotic use.

Supermarket policy loopholes

We are particularly concerned by these report findings because the UK Government is in trade talks with countries like Australia, that use certain antibiotics for growth promotion, a practice that is banned in the UK.

The ban on growth promoters does not apply to imported food. This is a loophole which neither the UK Government, nor most of the supermarkets are addressing.

Suzi Shingler, of the Alliance, said: “Supermarkets have a responsibility to ensure that all meat, dairy and eggs they sell is produced without misusing antibiotics. Some imported food may even be produced by using antibiotics to make animals grow faster, a practice which has been banned in the UK for 15 years. 

As the UK is seeking to reach new trade deals with non-EU countries, it is more important than ever to have the same standards for imported and British produce. That’s why, today, we have launched a new petition urging supermarkets to apply their rules for responsible antibiotic use to all animal products sold in their stores.”

Cause for concern

Resistance to antibiotics caused by the overuse of these medicines in livestock and humans is increasing, and threatens to undermine medical procedures such as hip replacements, cancer chemotherapy, organ transplants and the treatment of preterm babies. It is predicted that if the world doesn’t radically change how antibiotics are used, by 2050 antimicrobial resistance will kill more people than cancer does today. 

TV’s Dr Chris Van Tulleken, an infectious diseases doctor and MRC Clinical Research Fellow at University College London Hospital, is supporting the petition and also stars in a short film which summarises the report findings. He said:

We need to get antibiotic misuse out of the food chain as it is contributing to the global crisis of antibiotic resistance. If we no longer have reliable, effective antibiotics, we will see a lot more deaths due to infection. 

Take action

Sign the petition and call on supermarkets to ensure responsible antibiotic use for all products sold in their stores.


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