Superbug fears as supermarket pig farms escalate use of crucial antibiotics | by Andrew Wasley | Jun, 2021 | Medium
Superbug fears as supermarket pig farms escalate use of crucial antibiotics
WAV Comment – Excellent ‘Guardian’ article as always.
An investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the Guardian has also uncovered instances of mass medication and apparently routine use of drugs on some UK pig farms, despite industry drives to combat the overuse of antibiotics. Andrew Wasley and Susannah Savage report
The use of certain antibiotics deemed critical to human health has surged on British pig farms supplying major supermarkets, prompting fresh concerns about the rise of antibiotic-resistant superbugs.
Previously unpublished industry data seen by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Vet Record and the Guardian shows the use of a class of antibiotics prescribed for various infections in humans more than doubled on UK pig farms between 2015 and 2019, with experts warning of a potential further rise because of impending changes to the sector.
The Bureau’s investigation has established the drugs are in use on pig farms supplying pork to food retailers Tesco and Waitrose.
The increase in usage of this class of drugs, known as aminoglycosides, came even as livestock farmers in the UK cut back on the overall use of antibiotics following stark warnings that the drug resistance crisis could lead to the deaths of millions of people around the world by 2050.
Antimicrobial resistance was seen as a priority under David Cameron’s government but has received less attention from Downing Street in recent years.
Jim O’Neill, who chaired the UK government’s review into superbugs, said the Covid-19 pandemic has underlined the need to put the issue of drug-resistant bacteria back on the global political agenda. He said: “There needs to be much stronger international agreement, and discipline following those agreements, that we will dramatically reduce the use of antibiotics in animals — especially those that are critical for human health.”
Tesco and Waitrose acknowledged they allow the use of the drugs by pork suppliers but insisted they are used responsibly.
Intensive pork production
Antibiotics are widely used in livestock production to treat and prevent disease, particularly on factory farms where pigs and poultry are often reared in overcrowded conditions in which bacteria can flourish. These farms can act as incubators for potentially fatal drug-resistant diseases in humans.
Aminoglycosides are a class of drugs that includes gentamicin, a medicine used in humans to treat for meningitis and infections of the blood and abdomen. They are deemed “critically important” to human health by the World Health Organization (WHO) . Despite this, they are used on pig farms to combat scour, an intestinal disease in young piglets, and other illnesses.
This description covers drugs that are the sole option or one of a handful of choices to treat infections caused by bacteria transmitted from non-human sources (such as food poisoning) or bacteria carrying “resistance genes” from non-human sources such as farm animals.
Data compiled by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, an industry body, shows the use of aminoglycosides jumped from 2.6mg per kilogram of body weight in 2015 to 5.9mg in 2019.
Cóilín Nunan, the scientific adviser at the pressure group Alliance to Save our Antibiotics, said: “Reductions in antibiotic use can be achieved if pigs are kept less intensively and husbandry is improved.”
He added that farms should not be permitted to take piglets away from the sow at an early age — a “stressful” practice associated with large increases in antibiotic use.
According to industry experts, the recent jump in the use of aminoglycosides is likely due to the phasing out of other antibiotics such as colistin — a measure specifically designed to tackle antimicrobial resistance — and changes on farms in preparation for an EU ban on the use of zinc oxide, also commonly used to control scour.
Grace Webster, a vet from the Pig Health and Welfare Council, which brings together the industry and government, said the sector had made progress by reducing overall usage, but added: “We do have great concern about losing zinc oxide because there’s a chance it will increase our antibiotics use.
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