Three retailers publishes antibiotic usage figures

Three major supermarket chains have published antibiotic usage data, with others now under pressure to follow suit.

Marks & Spencer become the first major retailer to publish antibiotic data from its supply chain on Thursday, followed by Waitrose and Asda.

The data, published on M&S’s website shows its pork suppliers used 41mg/PCU of antibiotics in 2015 and 2016, compared with overall industry usage of 183mg/PCU and the 2020 industry usage target of 99mg/PCU.

Usage in chicken was 2.5mg/PCU in 2016, compared with an industry average of 17mg/PCU and, in dairy, the 2016 figure was 13mg/PCU, half the industry average.

M&S, which supplies relatively low volumes of pork compared with the biggest retailers, said it decided to publish the data as part of its Plan A 2025 commitment to be a leader in transparency.

It said the data shows levels of use significantly below industry averages and RUMA 2020 targets. It intends to update this document regularly and add other product categories next year.

Steve McLean, head of agriculture at M&S, said: “Our farmers use antibiotics responsibly. They never use them routinely, never use antibiotics that are critical to human health and are committed to reducing use every year.

“However, we do not envisage never using them. Animal welfare is at the heart of our business and using them responsibly includes ensuring animals receive the appropriate treatment, under veterinary supervision, when they need it.”

Waitrose, which had been planning to publish its figures in early 2018, quickly followed suit, showing its pig farms used 50-75mg/PCU of antibiotics in 2016, with other sectors also well below industry averages. Waitrose said it was working with its suppliers to develop strategies to reduce overall use, while ‘keeping animal welfare at the forefront of any decisions’.

Then, more surprisingly, came Asda. Its figures also showed low usage, although they did not include pig data, which the retailer said was still being collated. “Antibiotics should be used responsibly in farm animals. We do not support the routine preventative use of antibiotics,” Asda said.

The National Pig Association has urged retailers not to make antibiotic use a competitive issue. But retailers have come under pressure from groups like the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics, which urged all retailers to follow suit and also to publish antibiotic data by production system.

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Editor of LBM titles Pig World and Farm Business and group editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer. National Pig Association's webmaster. Previously political editor at Farmers Guardian for many years and also worked Farmers Weekly. Occasional farming media pundit. Brought up on a Leicestershire farm, now work from a shed in the garden in Oxfordshire. Big fan of Leicester City and Leicester Tigers. Occasional cricketer.