Protect consumers from the misuse of antibiotics on farms, new report says

Top supermarkets are failing to outlaw meat reared with routine antibiotics: new survey report.

Soil Association

Soil Association

A new assessment by the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics of the publicly available antibiotics policies of the 10 leading British supermarkets has found that:

  • Three supermarket chains (Aldi, Asda and Iceland) continue to sell food produced from animals that may have been regularly treated with antibiotics, even if they’re not sick. This is despite calls from the United Nations and World Health Organisation to end the misuse of medicines in farming because of the threat to human health.
  • Four supermarkets (Aldi, Iceland, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s) have published no information on the levels of antibiotic use by their suppliers even though a new YouGov survey has found that 87% of the general public thought that supermarkets should have to publish antibiotic-use data they possess and only 4% thought they shouldn’t have to [3].
  • Overall, Waitrose has the most comprehensive antibiotic policies, and M&S and Tesco had the next-best policies. Iceland performed worst and was the only supermarket with no publicly available policies.
  • Only M&S and Waitrose ban suppliers from using the antibiotic colistin, a medicine of last-resort used by doctors for treating certain life-threatening infections when other antibiotics don’t work.

Some of the UK’s most popular supermarket chains are putting precious antibiotics and human health at risk by supporting meat production from animals that may have been speculatively treated with antibiotics, even if the animals were not sick. This is despite calls from the United Nations and World Health Organisation to end the misuse of antibiotics in farming that are desperately needed for human health.

The overuse of antibiotics in farm animals contributes to bacteria becoming resistant to these medicines. Highly resistant bacteria, sometimes called ‘superbugs’, can transfer from animals to people on meat and result in infections which are much more difficult to treat.

A new report released today by the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics found Aldi, Asda and Iceland have no restrictions on their meat, dairy and egg suppliers using antibiotics routinely, in contrast to Co-op, Lidl, M&S, Sainsburys, Tesco and Waitrose who do. Morrisons has a ban in some species but not in others.  

Overall, Waitrose has the most comprehensive antibiotic policies, and M&S and Tesco have the next-best policies. Iceland, however, is the only supermarket with no publicly available policies.

The Alliance to Save our Antibiotics’ Campaign Manager, Suzi Shingler, said:

"It’s completely unacceptable that some UK supermarkets are putting their customers’ health at risk. If supermarkets allow suppliers to speculatively treat animals with antibiotics, they are threatening our most precious medicines. The more antibiotics are used on farms, the more opportunities bacteria have to build up resistance to the medicines we so desperately need when we’re sick. This is why the WHO and the UN are calling for urgent action. Fortunately, other supermarkets are taking their responsibilities a lot more seriously.”

None of the 10 supermarkets surveyed published full information on antibiotics use in their supply chain. Apart from Iceland, all of the supermarkets collect some data but only Asda, the Co-op, Lidl, M&S, Tesco and Waitrose have published partial information.

The Alliance is calling on all the supermarkets to publish full antibiotic-use data by farming system, so customers can compare intensive farms with pasture fed, free range and organic. A YouGov survey commissioned by the Alliance also found that 87% of the general public thought that supermarkets should have to publish antibiotic-use data they possess.

Cóilín Nunan, Scientific Adviser of the Alliance, said:

"We know that certain practices in intensive farming are linked with higher levels of stress and of antibiotic use, such as keeping large numbers of animals in cramped conditions indoors, weaning piglets when they are too young or using very fast-growing breeds of chickens. If supermarkets are really committed to reducing farm antibiotic use, they should publish antibiotic data viewed by farming system, as this would help all farmers to learn from best practice. Consumers also have a right to know how their food is being produced and the YouGov survey shows that they want this information."

The Alliance is also calling for a complete ban on the use of the antibiotic colistin in farming.

Colistin is a medicine of last resort, used for treating antibiotic-resistant and life-threatening infections in human medicine. M&S and Waitrose are the only supermarkets which explicitly prohibit their suppliers from using colistin.

Cóilín Nunan said:

“Colistin can save lives, and we know its use in farming has led to colistin-resistant infections in humans, which is why India recently banned its farmers from using the antibiotic. So there really can be no excuse for continuing to use colistin in British farming. All supermarkets should immediately prohibit their suppliers from using colistin.”

You can read the full report here


29/01/2020
Save Our Antibiotics

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

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