Revealed: critically important antibiotics in use on UK pig farms

Ecostorm contributed to a major new investigation that has uncovered how antibiotics classed as being critically important to human health are still being used on UK pig farms.

The overuse of antibiotics in farms contributes to antibiotic resistance and helps to create the conditions for superbugs to emerge, posing a threat to human health. The World Health Organisation recommends that antibiotics of highest critical importance to humans should not be used in farming.

The investigation, which also documented a number of welfare concerns, follows a series of stories Ecostorm has worked on in recent years highlighting the links between intensive farming and the spread of antibiotic resistant superbugs.

Previously, working with Guardian Films, Ecostorm highlighted how pork sold by several leading British supermarkets was found to be contaminated with a strain of the superbug MRSA linked to the overuse of antibiotics on factory farms.

Livestock-associated MRSA CC398, which originates in animals, was found in pork products sold in Sainsbury’s, Asda, the Co-operative and Tesco. Of the 100 packets of pork chops, bacon and gammon tested in the investigation, nine – eight Danish and one Irish – were found to have been infected with CC398.

CC398 in meat, which poses little risk to the British public, can be transmitted by touching infected meat products or coming into contact with contaminated livestock or people, although it can be killed through cooking.

Many people carry the bacteria without any signs of illness, but some have developed skin complaints, and the bug can cause life-threatening infections, including pneumonia and blood poisoning. Experts warn that the superbug has emerged as a result of antibiotic use in intensive farming and there is evidence that the UK could be at risk of a wider health crisis unless the issue is tackled by the authorities.