A statement by Grand National sponsors Randox Health revealing it has been testing meat served at the meeting for antibiotic residues has been dismissed as a ‘publicity stunt’.
The Responsible Use of Medicines (RUMA) alliance has condemnded the move, suggesting claims about antibiotic use made by the company contain inaccuracies and have the potential to cause confusion.
In a press release, Randox said the Ladymoor Farm beef to be served to 12,000 people at Aintree ‘received the all-clear’ from Randox’s Food Diagnostic division after being tested on the company’s patented Biochip Array Technology.
It cites warnings by scientists that ‘excessive use of antibiotics in healthy farm animals is contributing to the rise of infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria known as superbugs’ and claims there was a 40% increase in prescriptions of drugs of ‘last resort’ last year. It then adds that it is ‘believed 12,000 people die from antibiotic-resistant bugs every year in the UK’.
The company said the Food Diagnostics division was ‘working closely with the industry to promote a responsible approach to antibiotic-use in farm animals’.
“The company believes there has never been a more important time to raise awareness of the issue and offer consumers the highest standard of food safety,” it said.
Randox Founder and Managing Director, Dr Peter FitzGerald said: Through our sponsorship of the Randox Health Grand National we want to take the opportunity to showcase our commitment to this growing threat.”
Aintree Racecourse managing director John Baker added: “When you start to learn about the consequences of antibiotic-resistance it’s actually quite alarming and so we’re pleased to be able to support this.”
The RUMA Alliance, which is co-ordinating the setting of industry antibiotic this year, said Randox Health had confused residue testing with the separate issue of antibiotic resistance.
It had failed to acknowledge that all use of antibiotics in farm animals in the UK is strictly regulated, with withdrawal periods observed to avoid presence in meat, milk and other products from food-producing animals, RUMA said.
RUMA criticised the statement’s ‘sensationalist’ wording such as ‘epidemic’, It also condemned the incorrect attribution of a rise in human prescriptions for critically important antibiotics to food animals, when farm animal sales of all antibiotics, including high priority ones, have actually fallen.
RUMA secretary general John FitzGerald said: “In what appears to be an ill-conceived PR stunt by Randox Health’s food diagnostics division, the wrong risk and the wrong facts have been communicated.
“It is irresponsible and incorrect to imply a consumer would be harmed by antibiotics from any farm produce when residue levels have been very tightly controlled for decades.
“Regarding the altogether different issue of antibiotic resistance, its relationship to the testing of the meat for residues is bewildering. Antibiotic resistance is complex enough already; it should be a moral duty to clarify the facts rather than cause further confusion or, worse still, seek to use it for economic gain.”
RUMA has contacted Randox Health, seeking to urgently clarify its concerns, but said no response has been received.