Superbugs found in overseas pork products
Superbugs found in overseas pork products from one of New Zealand’s top import markets
Rising concern about superbugs underlines need to improve pig welfare around the world
13 December 2018, LONDON — Bacteria resistant to antibiotics most critically important to humans has been found in pork from supermarket shelves in Spain, Brazil and Thailand. The routine overuse of antibiotics is propping up low-welfare practices in pig farming and contributing to the superbug crisis.
World Animal Protection tested pork from the shelves of supermarkets in Australia, Brazil, Spain and Thailand, finding ‘superbugs’ resistant to antibiotics of highest critical importance to humans in three of the four countries.
No testing on pork on New Zealand supermarket shelves has been done, but this country imports significant volumes of pork (65%) currently unlabeled, from overseas producers where animal welfare standards can be low, and antibiotic use can be high; meaning antibiotic resistant superbugs could be found here.
The results shockingly highlight how the overuse of antibiotics in factory farming has become a band-aid solution to prevent cramped and stressed animals from getting sick, while also contributing to the superbug crisis.
The findings support existing evidence that routine overuse of antibiotics in farm animals is a significant contributor to the rise of superbugs, as recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the UN. Superbugs in the food chain can cause food poisoning, blood poisoning, urinary tract infections and in some cases, even death.
65% of pork consumed in New Zealand is imported, with pork from Spain the largest share and Australia also sitting in the top five countries we import pork from. Often the country of origin on processed pork packets is unclear and consumers do not know how animals were raised and whether antibiotics were used responsibly on farms.
Changes to country of origin labelling laws in 2019 should give consumers further information but supermarkets selling pork in New Zealand need to ensure high animal welfare standards regardless of where pigs are raised.
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.
Some of the cruel practices typically associated with low-welfare farms, that are leading to lifelong suffering and overuse of antibiotics on pig farms around the world include:
- Piglets are taken from their mothers far too early and mother pigs are used as breeding machines, kept in steel cages, unable to turn around and enduring unnecessary stress
- Piglets are cruelly mutilated often with no pain relief: their tails are cut, their teeth are ground or clipped, their ears notched, and in many parts of the world male piglets are castrated
- Pigs are cramped in dark, squalid warehouses forced to lie in their own waste. Stressful conditions that provide the perfect breeding ground for the spread of infection, leading to routine overuse of antibiotics.
World Animal Protection, Head of Farming, Jacqueline Mills said: “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 involves a steady overuse of antibiotics. But there is a better way. Supermarkets must demand their suppliers improve the welfare of pigs. Higher-welfare systems allow for responsible antibiotic use, as has been proven in Sweden.
“We need to see an end to close confinement and barren environments, so pigs can live in social groups in comfortable environments with opportunities to express natural behaviour. Supermarkets should be setting the bar far higher to ensure the animals in their supply chains are less stressed, and antibiotics are used responsibly in farming.”
World Animal Protection is working with producers globally to develop higher welfare systems, to get pigs out of cages and into social groups with manipulable materials to allow for expression of natural behaviour.
 In New Zealand, pregnancy cages are banned. Pigs may still be kept in cages for giving birth and lactating
 In New Zealand, castration at any age and tail cutting (after 7 days old) must only be performed by a veterinarian with pain relief.