Research from UK food and farming alliance, Sustain, finds that antibiotic use per animal in the US is twice as high as it is in the UK. FDA data shows that animal antibiotic sales have increased 26 percent between 2009 and 2015 in the US. In contrast, the UK government recently reported a 27 percent decrease in animal antibiotic use over the past two years.
Sustain is now warning UK consumers about antibiotic-packed chicken imported from the US. This difference in antibiotic use can affect potential trade policies between the two nations.
The UK government is actively fighting against antimicrobial resistance to drugs. Their meat industry has already reduced 44 percent of antibiotic use between 2012 and 2015. Sales of animal antibiotics have dropped to a record low in the UK. These efforts are increasing due to the threat of potential antibiotic resistance in consumers who purchase meat. By focusing on reducing the risks of contamination along the supply chain, the UK is able to reduce the need for the use of antibiotics in meat processing facilities.
With many US farmers routinely using antibiotics, chlorine rinses and irradiation on meat, the industry will have a difficult time breaking into the UK market.
“When US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told the CBI last week that the UK would have to accept US meat standards, I was horrified. Mass-produced American chicken may seem cheap, but it comes at a gigantic cost to our health, animals and workers,” said Kath Dalmeny, Chief Executive of Sustain.
“British food and farming industries have started to take action on the critically important issue of overuse of antibiotics in farming. We simply cannot afford to let our trade negotiators sweep such progress aside by flooding our market with cut-price US chicken raised with routine antibiotic use.”
“If antibiotics lose their efficacy through over-use in medicine and farming, we will return to an era when millions of lives could be lost every year to simple infections. All food and trade policy must reinforce international efforts to reduce antibiotic use, not create new markets for farmers – such as those in the US – who are using much more than they should.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) recently reached out to farmers about reducing the use of antibiotics in their poultry plants. This concern has reached major US poultry producers such as Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride and Perdue, all three of which have announced their commitment to reduce the use of antibiotics in their products.
In opposition to the concerns, Sanderson Farms, the third largest poultry producer in the US, is publicly backing the use of antibiotics in their products. The manufacturer had started an advertising campaign to defend their use of the medicine in their meats. The company refers to antibiotic free products as “tricks” to get consumers to pay more. Sanderson Farms continues to use antibiotics in their meats.
The switch to an antibiotic-free poultry industry in the US is not likely to occur in the near future. However, companies who are looking to expand their consumer reach to other countries need to take this step in order to appeal to other demographics.