Antibiotic-resistant E.coli bacteria found in UK supermarket meat

A new study has revealed extremely high levels of E.coli resistant to essential antibiotics for treating serious human E.coli infections on British supermarket chicken and pork.

The research found “soaring levels” of resistance in chicken meat, with 24% of samples testing positive for ESBL E.coli, a type of E.coli resistant to the ‘critically important’ modern cephalosporin antibiotics. This is four times higher than was found during a similar study in 2015, in which just 6% of chicken tested positive for ESBL E.coli. Modern cephalosporins are widely used for treating life-threatening E.coli blood poisoning in humans.

The study, commissioned by the Alliance to Save our Antibiotics, is the first to examine UK-origin retail meat for resistance to a wide range of important antibiotics for treating E.coli infections.

“A staggering 51% of the E.coli from pork and poultry samples were resistant to the antibiotic trimethoprim, which is used to treat over half of lower urinary-tract infections,” said the Alliance in a report on study results, released by scientists at Cambridge University, who looked at 189 UK-origin pig and poultry meat samples from the seven largest supermarkets in the UK (ASDA, Aldi, Coop, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose).

In addition, 19% of the E.coli were resistant to gentamicin, a very important human antibiotic used to treat more serious upper urinary-tract infections.

“These findings show the level of antibiotic resistance on retail meat to be worse than expected,” said the Alliance’s Emma Rose.

“Supermarkets must now publicly commit to polices which prohibit the routine mass-medication of groups of healthy animals, and take immediate steps to reduce farm use of the ‘critically important’ drugs.”

Cambridge University’s Dr Mark Holmes, who led the study, added: “I’m concerned that insufficient resources are being put into the surveillance of antibiotic resistance in farm animals and retail meat. We don’t know if these levels are rising or falling in the absence of an effective monitoring system.

“These results highlight the need for improvements in antibiotic stewardship in veterinary medicine. While some progress has been made we must not be complacent as it may take many years before we see significant reductions in the numbers of antibiotic-resistant bacteria found on farms.”

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