A leading scientist has expressed fears the Government doesn’t have adequate funding to monitor antibiotic resistance in UK farm animals and food.

Chicken coop.
In Dr Holmes’ research, 24% of chicken meat samples tested positive for a type of E coli resistant to third and fourth generation cephalosporins.

Senior lecturer in veterinary preventive medicine at the University of Cambridge Mark Holmes stated his worry after he authored a report identifying high levels of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in supermarket chicken and pork.

Dr Holmes was commissioned by the Alliance to Save our Antibiotics to examine 189 non-organic UK-origin pork and poultry meat samples from the UK’s seven largest supermarkets: Aldi, Asda, Co-op, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose.

Food findings

A total of 97 pork samples and 92 chicken meat samples were tested, and Escherichia coli bacteria were isolated from 186 (98%) of meat samples.

Almost a quarter (24%) of chicken meat samples tested positive for extended-spectrum beta-lactamase (ESBL) E coli – a type of E coli resistant to third and fourth generation cephalosporins.

This was a four-fold increase on Alliance testing of 50 poultry meat samples in 2015, which found 6% of samples were positive for ESBL E coli. No pork samples tested positive for ESBL E coli.

In addition, 19% of meat samples tested positive for resistance to gentamicin, with resistance found in both chicken meat (20%) and pork (18%).

Resistance was highest – at 51% – for trimethoprim. This included a resistance rate of 52% for pork and 50% for chicken meat.

No resistance to fluoroquinolones or the antibiotic colistin was found in any of the E coli.

Questionable funding

Dr Holmes told Veterinary Times that although the study was small, there should be concern over the findings. He also called for greater research into AMR at Government level.

He said: “My biggest concern is whether Defra and the VMD are adequately funded to do this sort of work.

“Why have these figures not been available from the surveys the VMD is doing? It’s because it doesn’t have enough money to do this type of research and it’s taking a charity or a special interest group to fund it.

“My worry is, particularly post-Brexit, they may get less and less funding for this sort of thing because at least some of the pressure in the past came from our European colleagues.

“We’re no longer going to be comparing ourselves to the Dutch, or the Danish, or the Swedish. We’re going to say: ‘We’re independent’, and that’s a worry.”


Responding to the research, a joint statement from the BVA, the British Veterinary Poultry Association and the Pig Veterinary Society said: “The veterinary profession recognises AMR is a global problem for humans and animals, so is working hard with companion animal owners, livestock farmers and other species stakeholders to promote responsible use of antibiotics.

“The reduced and targeted use of antibiotics in animal agriculture is just one piece of the jigsaw when tackling AMR and we need to foster increased collaboration between health sectors – with the veterinary profession committed to playing its part – to ensure positive steps are taken to preserve these essential drugs for future generations.”


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