An antibiotic-resistant superbug has been found in UK pork products

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Scientists have spotted a superbug in UK supermarket pork that’s antibiotic-resistant and potentially deadly.

Identified in more than 10 percent of pork samples is a variant of enterococci bacteria strain. It causes urinary tract and wound infections. In severe cases, it can infect a person’s heart, brain, and bloodstream.

Confirmed to contain the bacteria are pork chops, roasts and ground beef. Further analysis showed the bug to be resistant to antibiotic treatments as a ‘last resort’.

Red Tractor assured, RSPCA assured and organic pork products were all included in the testing processes.

Assess the extent of the pork superbug problem

World Animal Protection commissioned Fera Science to investigate the extent of the pork problem.

The researchers bought 103 pork products, all from unnamed supermarkets and online retailers in Yorkshire. About 22 carried the Red Tractor label, 27 were organic or RSPCA assured, and 27 had no specific markings. The latter did not come from British farms.

The analysis showed that 25 products were infected with the bacteria. Of these, 23 showed resistance to antibiotic treatment.

“The UK government needs to end the routine use of antibiotics on farm animals, as the EU recently did,” Lindsay Duncan, head of agricultural campaigns at World Animal Protection, told The Guardian. “And to recognize that a reduction in the consumption of animal products is needed to address the myriad of problems caused by factory farming.”

What creates treatment-resistant superbugs?

A major concern is the continued use of antibiotics in intensive factory farming. Animal husbandry is a breeding ground for diseases. Animals kept in confined spaces can quickly spread infections that are transmissible to humans. Farmers use antibiotics to keep animals alive and well long enough to reach the slaughterhouse.

The practice is widespread but not accepted by everyone. Concerned parties have urged the UK government to ban antibiotics in meat as it seeks new trade partnerships in 2020. That same year, the US saw its beef industry rocked by allegations of overuse of antibiotics.

After increasing global attention to the issue, the EU banned the routine use of antibiotics in animal rearing in January. Following research into the increased likelihood of drug resistance and human health implications, the move led to a more in-depth review of the non-compliant regions.

How serious is antibiotic resistance?

A 2016 British government analjsister of treatment resistance claimed that superbugs kill more than 700,000 people each year. That number could rise to 10 million by 2050 without intervention.

Of particular concern is the increasing incidence of meat infections. One in 100 pork and poultry products contained enterococci in 2018. Now the latest tests show an infection rate of 13 in 103 samples. The discovery of the superbug in organic meat, which is traditionally made with fewer antibiotics, adds to experts’ concerns.

“Lower antibiotic resistance in organic produce can be explained by the very severe limitations on antibiotic use in organic farming,” said Gareth Morgan, Head of Agricultural Policy at the Soil Association.

The government claims it is trying to reduce antibiotic dependency on all farms, not just those that are certified organic.

The Veterinary Medicines Directorate then stated: “We are committed to reducing the unnecessary use of antibiotics in animals. It remains our intention to strengthen our national law in this area.”

How can consumers protect themselves from the pork superbug?

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) states that cooking meat properly reduces if not kills most of the bacteria it contains.

Other proactive measures include storing pork separately in the refrigerator and careful kitchen hygiene.

Alternatively, there are a growing number of plant-based pork products on the market. For example, some brands offer vegan sausages, bacon, and ground beef.

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