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Dangerous Antibiotic Resistant Superbugs Found In U.S. Walmart Pork

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Non profit World Animal Protection (WAP) has conducted research that has identified multiple strains of bacteria in the meat samples, 80% of which were antibacterial resistant. On top of that the study discovered that 37% of the bacteria that came from Walmart pork samples were resistant to over three classes of antibiotics and of that 37% there were almost 10% that were resistant to six classes of antibiotics.

27% of the samples with resistant bacteria present in the Walmart samples were scarily categorized as “Highest Priority Critically Important Antimicrobials” (HPCIAs) by the World Health Organization (WHO). HPCIAs are antibiotics used in a “last ditch” effort when all other traditional antibiotics have failed to treat bacterial infections known most commonly as “superbugs” as they could easily cause a pandemic destroying most life on earth.

WHO describes “superbugs” as a threat to “all human life” and an “increasingly serious threat to global public health that requires action across all government sectors and society.” 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections occur in the U.S. each year which leads to the deaths of over 35,000 people. A United Nations report says that superbugs could kill 10 million people globally each year by 2050 if nothing is done to change this problem. Researchers say that not enough is being done to address the overuse of antibiotics which is  coming from animal agriculture the main contributing factor to the rise of these so called Superbugs.

“Seventy percent of the world’s antibiotics are use on farmed animals, and when you use antibiotics on farmed animals as a preventative rather than to treat the animal when it’s sick, then it’s an overuse of antibiotics.There has not been a great progress in the development of new antibiotics over the last 50 years, so we are not keeping up with the new bugs that keep cropping up, such as swine flu, etcetera.” Alesia Soltanpanah Executive Director of WAP U.S., told Newsweek

The report points out these type of farming conditions are the perfect breeding ground for these superbugs to come about. Instead of providing a healthy environment for animals like pigs to be raised in they are instead kept in filthy, cramped conditions that antibiotics must be used in just to keep the animals healthy as a preventative measure instead of a case by case basis.

“[Pigs] are crammed into small barren cages and it creates a lot of stress. They’re in ‘gestation crates’ where they cannot move,” Soltanpanah said. “Pigs are highly intelligent animals and they’re very family oriented. Just the same as humans, they get sick when stressed out. So the only way that you can raise these pigs in these kinds of conditions and not have them all die off—which would cut profitability—is to feed them antibiotics.”

The WAP conducted tests on 80 pork samples and 32 batches of 5 samples purchased from several different Walmart stores in the Mid Atlantic region and another 80 samples from a large Walmart competitor. 

Texas Tech University researchers then analyzed the samples looking for the commonly found bacteria in pork: E. coli, Salmonella, Eterococcus, and Listeria. The bacteria was then dosed with antibiotics to see if they were resistant. The tests found that both retail giants contained similar amounts of bacteria in their samples but Walmart contained 60 percent of them (more than half). Some key findings in the report state:

  1. The scientists identified a total of 51 bacteria isolates from the batches including:
    1. Enterococcus in 27 batches;
    2. E. coli in 14 batches;
    3. Salmonella in six batches, and;
    4. Listeria in four batches.
  1. Batches of samples from Walmart were far more likely to contain a detectable presence of two or more of the bacteria in a single batch than the other chain, and all batches that tested positive for three or more bacteria were obtained at Walmart.
  2. Antibiotic susceptibility testing conducted by the laboratory revealed that 41 of the 51 bacteria isolated from the pork samples were resistant to at least one class of medically important antibiotics. Twenty-one of the bacteria were multi-drug-resistant, meaning they were resistant to three or more classes, with three being resistant to six classes of medically important antibiotics.
  3. The majority of multi-drug-resistant strains were isolated from Walmart sample batches, including all strains resistant to four or more drug classes. All seven strains resistant to HPCIA’s were in Walmart samples.

“It’s not uncommon to find these [bacteria,]” Soltanpanah said. “[But] I think the amount and the type of superbugs that were resistant to antibiotics was very surprising to us.

“The presence of multi-drug-resistant bacteria on pork products illustrates the role the pork supply chain plays in the global health crisis caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria,” she said in a statement. “The fact that pork purchased from several Walmart stores, one of the nation’s largest retailers, contains bacteria resistant to antibiotics critically important to human health is particularly alarming and should raise concerns for all Walmart customers.”

This report follows hot on the heels of another report  published by WAP in 2018 that discovered antibiotic resistant bacteria in samples from major grocers in Brazil, Thailand, and Spain. Many of the samples in that study that tested positive were from Walmart stores.

According to Soltanpanah the WAP has contacted Walmart with their concerns about their findings but she said Walmart was “not responsive” about their study results. The WAP states that the other unknown retailer from the study has taken a stand and commitment against gestation crates for breeding sows where large amounts of antibiotics are used as they are kept in such filthy and confined conditions.

The WAP goes on to state that Walmart is “lagging behind the times” as they have made no real commitment on dropping the use of gestation crates that their “farmers” use even though the majority of their competitors have including; Costco, Kroger, and Target.

“By requiring higher welfare practices of all its pork suppliers, starting with a definitive timeline to end the use of gestation crates, Walmart can help eliminate the overuse of antibiotics to protect pigs and their customers,” Soltanpanah said. “In fact, 88 percent of Walmart customers surveyed agreed that supermarkets have a responsibility to ensure that pigs are treated well, and 78 percent would be more inclined to shop at a retailer that planned to eliminate cages from its pork supply.”

The WAP says that all international retailers must improve the quality of life for pigs and to source their meat only from “high welfare farms” where the animals can move around and express their natural behaviors.

“What we’re asking retailers and producers to do is to raise them in more natural settings, and more natural settings leads to less illness,” Soltanpanah said. “It’s been proven in many studies, if you can raise them in group settings where they’re able to socialize, able to be in straw—which is a natural element for pigs to play in—or have toys or things for them to interact with, they’re much less stressed and they’re much less likely to get sick. And therefore the antibiotic use goes way down. And you know what? The pigs are happier, it’s less cruel and you’re going to get a better product in the end.”

Concluding, the researchers said: “There is an opportunity for the pig industry to responsibly reduce antibiotics while improving animal welfare practices: better for pigs, people and the planet.”

n a statement provided to Newsweek Walmart said: “At Walmart and Sam’s Club we are committed to providing our customers with access to safe, affordable, and sustainable food as well as promoting the humane treatment of animals. We only accept fresh pork from animals raised under the standards of the National Pork Board’s (NPB’s) Pork Quality Assurance (PQA) Plus Program.”

“We value our relationships with U.S. pork producers who are dedicated to providing the highest in quality and safety through practices that promote animal well-being. Our priority is to advance humane treatment of farm animals in accordance with 5 Freedoms of Animal Welfare,” the statement read.

Walmart said that at the conclusion of 2018 100% of their pork producers had closed circuit camera systems in place to monitor the animals and workers.

“Additionally, as the world’s largest grocer, we are committed to playing a leading role in upholding food safety laws and regulations applicable to our global businesses, and to providing access to safe, high-quality foods.To reduce food-safety-related risk in our supply chain, we require all private-brand suppliers and select categories of national-brand suppliers to achieve certification to one of the Global Food Safety Initiative’s internationally recognized food safety standards, which often exceed applicable regulatory requirements,” Walmart said.

Some quotes where noted came from a Newsweek article.

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Brandon Kirkwood

Animal Rights Activist (ARA), Vegan, Creator and editor of Vegan News, Father to an awesome cat named Boba, Youtuber

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