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Supermarket shoppers could be buying meat produced with irresponsible antibiotic use, new report finds

Meat, dairy and eggs produced with the misuse of antibiotics could still be making its way on to UK supermarket shelves, due to inadequate policies, according to a new report launched today by the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics.

The report shows that despite some improvements in supermarket antibiotic policies, most imports and branded products are not covered by the supermarket’s own rules for responsible antibiotic use. This means that there is no reliable way for shoppers to avoid buying food produced with irresponsible antibiotic use.

This is a particular concern because the 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, a loophole which neither the government nor most of the supermarkets are addressing.

The Alliance, of which Sustain is a founding member, has assessed the publicly available antibiotic policies of the UK’s ten leading supermarkets and found that they all now have a policy aimed at ending routine preventative antibiotic use in their supply chains. Two years ago, only six supermarkets had such a rule. Unfortunately, most supermarkets only apply their antibiotic policies to some or all of their own-brand products. Some policies only cover own-brand fresh meat, dairy and eggs of UK origin, leaving frozen produce, ready meals, ingredients and branded produce with no restrictions on antibiotic use, other than minimum legal standards.

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 and comes from farms with good husbandry. The current mishmash of rules means that consumers cannot tell whether this is the case or not. 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, the Alliance has launched a petition urging supermarkets to apply their rules for responsible antibiotic use to all animal products sold in their stores.”

The petition is being supported by TV’s Dr Chris Van Tulleken, an infectious diseases doctor and MRC Clinical Research Fellow at University College London Hospital, who wrote an opinion piece on the issue for today's Daily Mail. 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. This will even affect young people, including children.”

You can sign a petition calling on the supermarkets to ensure responsible antibiotic use in all their produce here.

You can read the exec summary of the report here. The full report is available here.

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Published 18 Nov 2021

Sustainable Farming Campaign: Sustain encourages integration of sustainable food and farming into local, regional and national government policies.

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