Superbugs found in pork sold at Walmart stores in the US
Our latest research finds superbugs in pork sold at Walmart stores in US. Urge the company to set higher welfare policies for its pork suppliers to protect pigs and people.
We recently released our latest report, US Pork and the Superbug Crisis, and the findings are hitting close to home. Our investigation found superbugs in pork sold at Walmart stores in the US.
The findings showed that 80% of the bacteria isolated from Walmart US's pork products were resistant to at least one antibiotic. Additionally, more than half contained at least one multi-drug resistant strain resistant to three or more classes of antibiotic.
This investigation follows a report we released last year, where pork products tested in five countries, including Spain and Thailand, also contained superbugs resistant to antibiotics.
What are antibiotic resistant bacteria?
Antibiotic resistant bacteria threaten public health and weaken our defenses against illnesses and infections in humans that are difficult to treat. They result in prolonged hospitalizations and higher mortality. Global health agencies have warned that we are entering a post-antibiotic era where common infections and routine surgeries may once again be life-threatening.
Antibiotics overuse in farming
Pork producers use large amounts of antibiotics as a result of low-welfare practices and conditions. Overuse of antibiotics contributes to the rise and spread of bacteria on farms that are resistant to the medicines typically used to kill them. These "superbugs" can travel off-farm via water, air, workers, and wildlife or through the food chain in the pigs themselves, reaching humans and causing life-threatening illness.
How does this affect Canada?
Pork products sold at Canadian Walmart stores have not been tested, but Canada does import pork from the US. According to the US Meat Export Federation, last year, 205,568 metric tonnes of US pork valued at USD$765 million was exported to Canada.
As of December 2018, in Canada, a veterinary prescription is required for antibiotics given to farm animals, and antibiotic use in the livestock industry has decreased. However, administering antibiotics to farm animals for disease prevention is still commonplace.
The results from the Walmart US pork testing comes on the heels of a Canadian study from the Council of Canadian Academies warning of the potential rise in the percentage of bacterial infections that are resistant to antibiotic treatments. The report also states that overuse of antibiotics on farm animals contributes to this.
Lynn Kavanagh, our campaign manager said: “We know that raising animals in low welfare farms with crowding and unsanitary conditions makes the animals stressed and more vulnerable to illness. Breeding mother pigs (sows) are still largely housed in cages where they cannot even turn around. That is why it is important to transition from these environments to higher welfare farms where animals are given space to move and can live in an enriched environment. It’s better for them and they are healthier and less prone to disease in the first place.”
Canada is taking steps in that direction. Producers are expected to eliminate the practice of confining mother pigs in gestation (pregnancy) crates by 2024 and the Retail Council Of Canada which includes companies such as Walmart Canada, have committed to sell higher welfare pork by 2022. However, Walmart Canada has still not made a public commitment to this on their website. We encourage them to do this as consumers expect companies to be transparent about their animal welfare commitments in addition to reporting on their progress towards achieving these goals.
We are calling on supermarkets globally to improve the lives of pigs by only sourcing pork from high welfare farms. Our Raise Pigs Right campaign aims to get pigs out of cages and not left to suffer in barren environments that promote disease. Rather, these highly intelligent animals should be allowed to live in groups, with room to move around naturally.
Change is possible and higher welfare systems are good for animal health and peoples’ health and it’s good for business, too.
Use your purchasing power
If you are buying meat products, make sure they are sourced from producers that use high welfare farming systems. Use our guide to help you understand labels on animal products and how that relates to animal welfare.
Tell Walmart to commit to higher welfare sourcing to protect pigs, people and the planet
Walmart has a responsibility to set higher welfare policies for its pork suppliers that can reduce reliance on antibiotics, starting with ending gestation crates for mother pigs.