Most of the UK’s biggest supermarket chains are falling short on measures to reduce the use of antibiotics in the production of the meat and animal products they sell, campaigners have warned, with potentially harmful impacts on human health.
Lidl performed worst of the nine supermarket chains examined by the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics, a pressure group made up of several NGOs.
Lidl had no publicly available policy on the use of antibiotics in its farm supply chain, leaving consumers in the dark and with no publicly available evidence of any effort to curb the overuse of antibiotics of concern.
The supermarket told the Guardian it had been working on a policy, which would soon be published. The policy it sent to the Guardian is four sentences long and “encourages producers to optimise welfare, health, hygiene, husbandry and biosecurity” of their animals, using antibiotics “as little as possible and as much as necessary”, without containing any specifics on how this can be achieved or measured.
The overuse of antibiotics on farms is a major cause of the growing resistance in humans that is giving rise to superbugs, bacteria impervious to all but the strongest medicines and which pose a huge and growing threat to human health.
The UK’s chief medical officer has repeatedly warned that growing resistance to antibiotics could render even routine operations highly dangerous in a few years.
The best-performing supermarket was Waitrose, which not only has a clearly articulated policy on antibiotics in its supply chain, but also a strategy for reducing antibiotic use and a commitment to publishing the results, showing the amount of antibiotics used on the farms from which it is supplied.
The supermarket also bans the routine use of antibiotics on its farms, and the use of some of the strongest antibiotics, which the World Health Organisation has urged should be reserved for the use of human patients, not farm animals.
Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s and Tesco were ranked next, while second from bottom were Asda and Aldi, which had publicly available policies on antibiotic use but few stringent measures associated with them, with the Co-op group also falling short on measures such as banning the strong antibiotic colistin and publishing data on antibiotic use.
Suzi Shingler, campaign manager at the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics, said: “These findings show some supermarkets are finally starting to take the issue of antibiotic resistance…