Superbugs found in pork sold on supermarket shelves in Spain, Thailand and Brazil

December 18 2018

The results from our investigation highlight how the overuse of antibiotics in factory farming is propping up a broken system

We found superbugs – which are bacteria resistant to the antibiotics most critically important to humans – in pork on supermarket shelves in Spain, Thailand and Brazil.

The findings support existing evidence that routine overuse of antibiotics in farm animals is a significant contributor to the rise of superbugs, as recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN.

Superbugs in the food chain can cause food poisoning, blood poisoning, urinary tract infections and in some cases, even death.

By current estimates, superbugs are killing 700,000 people every year.

You can read our full report here.

Poor welfare practices

Routine overuse of antibiotics in factory farming has become a band-aid solution for poor welfare practices, which is leading to antibiotic resistance and creating superbugs.

Antibiotics are administered to sick animals, which are often sick as a result of intensive factory farming methods. If farms use high-welfare practices, the animals are less likely to get sick and fewer antibiotics will be needed. Employing high-welfare practices on farms will also reduce the use antibiotics for disease prevention.

Pictured: Pregnant mother pigs live in cramped cages (aka sow stalls or gestation crates) where they can barely move with no enrichment. This causes severe stress, discomfort and suffering, but these are still used in many parts of the world. The white foam around the mouth is a signal of false chewing or bar chewing generated by the frustration of natural behaviour and restricted diets. (These photos are from an undisclosed location in Latin America).

Antibiotics and factory farming

Three quarters of the world’s antibiotics are used in farming annually, with the highest use in pigs. Routine overuse is often associated with low-welfare practices.

Although antibiotic use in the livestock industry has decreased over the past few years in Canada, administering antibiotics to farm animals for disease prevention, and sometimes growth, is still commonplace.

Our executive director Josey Kitson says: “We hope the legislation requiring farmers to obtain a prescription for antibiotics, which came into effect on December 1, will reduce the indiscriminate use of antibiotics to farm animals. However, improving farming conditions so that animals are kept in healthier, less-stressful environments is also critical."

Some of the cruel practices typically associated with low-welfare farms that are leading to lifelong suffering and overuse of antibiotics on pig farms include:

  • piglets are taken from their mothers far too early
  • mother pigs are used as breeding machines, kept in steel cages no bigger than a fridge, and are unable to turn around
  • piglets are cruelly mutilated often with no pain relief: their tails are cut off, their teeth are ground or clipped, their ears notched. In many parts of the world most male piglets are castrated
  • pigs are cramped in dark, squalid warehouses forced to lie in their own waste

These stressful and cruel conditions created by pork producers are the perfect breeding ground for infection. Instead of improving pig welfare, farms are overusing antibiotics to stop stressed animals getting sick, causing the emergence of various strains of superbugs.

Supermarkets must act

We are calling for global supermarkets to improve the lives of pigs by only sourcing pork from high-welfare farms.

Jacqueline Mills who leads our Raise pigs right campaign says: “We tested pork products to see for ourselves how the pig industry contributes to superbugs, and to provide evidence to supermarkets to urge them to take responsibility and help to raise pigs right.”

“Factory farm conditions for pigs cause them immense pain and stress, which leads to excessive use of antibiotics. But there is a better way. Supermarkets must demand their suppliers improve the welfare of pigs.”

Our work: a better future for farming

We are working with producers to develop higher welfare systems, to get pigs out of cages and into social groups, to end painful mutilations and to provide manipulable materials to allow for expression of natural behaviour.

Click here to learn more about our farming work.

Read our full report on pork testing.

Pictured: Pigs in enriched group housing with deep beds in a higher welfare indoor farm in the UK.

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