New research has revealed the best and worst in supermarket antibiotic policy. The Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics has released a report detailing the key differences in how supermarkets are tackling the antibiotic-resistance crisis. This report has come out not a moment too soon. Overuse of antibiotics in farming is contributing to deadly drug resistance - a crisis that is predicted to kill one person every 3 seconds by 2050 if no action is taken.
Supermarkets have a big role to play in the antibiotic crisis. They dominate the food sector with the top eight supermarkets in the UK making up 93% of the UK grocery market. This means that if supermarkets demand reductions in antibiotic use within their supply chains, this is likely to make a massive impact on the way we farm in the UK.
The alliance found that five out of eight of the retailers- Co-op, M&S, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose - have now introduced welcome bans to prevent their suppliers routinely using antibiotics for disease prevention. Morrisons has a ban in some species but not in others, Aldi has some restrictions but no ban, while Asda and Lidl have no restrictions other than the legal minimum.
Waitrose demonstrates that commercial success is possible whilst having comprehensive policies to limit antibiotic use. They have policies that include: a ban on the use of the last-resort human antibiotic colistin and limits on the use of critically important antibiotics. They also routinely collect antibiotic-use data.
The level of agreement is now so great that supermarkets and intensive livestock farmers are ready to work together and take action. They agree that antibiotic use in farming must be cut, and this report shows that supermarkets and the British poultry industry have already taken some positive steps in line with the Alliance’s campaign demands. But the job is only half done – and we need supermarkets and farmers to take action now more than ever. This report adds to the weight of evidence that different farming systems impact the amount of antibiotics used. It can no longer be claimed that how we keep, treat and feed farm animals has nothing to do with how often they get sick, and how many antibiotics they need.
This report shows that the way we farm matters. By looking at the antibiotic use in a variety of farming systems the Alliance to Save our Antibiotics identified that farming methods which have the highest health and welfare standards of farm animals, on average, have the least amount of antibiotic use. The report shows that British livestock farmers are continuing to reduce their antibiotic use. For example, the broiler sector has achieved major reductions in antibiotic through removing prophylactic treatments on day old chicks. However, even more reductions are achievable if we start to focus on high animal health and welfare.
Our urgent job now is to make the case to the supermarkets, Government and farming industry for high welfare, sustainable systems and the opportunity they present to bring about immediate and dramatic reductions in antibiotic use. We are at the point of no return and we need to take action to tackle antibiotic resistance at its source. This report demonstrates how closely linked antibiotic use is to good husbandry. It is now essential that we change our farming system to allow animals to follow their urges to care, root, graze and play. This report from the Antibiotics Alliance supports our view that by creating these conditions for our farm animals, not only will we be improving farm animal welfare, but also reducing the need to use antibiotics on farms. We must save antibiotics so that we can continue to use them when we really need to, whether for sick animals or people. We could change the lives of millions of farm animals for the better. As antibiotic resistance reaches crisis point, now is the time to act.
It is, therefore, essential that all supermarkets commit to ending all routine preventative use of antibiotics and support farmers to do so by paying fair prices.
We can take action to save our antibiotics whilst preventing many animals from living a miserable, cramped existence. Together, we can prevent a human-health disaster and continue to improve the lives of millions of farm animals.