The World Animal Protection, a global animal-welfare organization, has released a new report that finds that bacteria resistant to antibiotics considered highly important or critically important to human health were present in pork products purchased at Walmart stores in the United States.

The World Animal Protection tested a total of 160 pork samples purchased from several Walmart stores and a competing national retail chain in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. The samples, 80 from each retailer, were analyzed by researchers at Texas Tech University (TTU) in 32 batches of five samples each for the presence of bacteria commonly found in pigs and pork: E. coli, Salmonella, Enterococcus, and Listeria. Bacteria isolated from the batches were then tested for susceptibility to antibiotics.

Researchers found that 80% of the bacteria isolated from Walmart’s pork products were resistant to at least one antibiotic, including resistance to classes of antibiotics considered highly important or critically important by the World Health Organization. In addition, all the bacteria resistant to four or more classes of antibiotics that the researchers found and all bacteria resistant to Highest Priority Critically Important Antimicrobials (HPCIAs) were found in samples from Walmart. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations recommends that HPCIAs—antibiotics where there are few or no alternatives to treat people with serious infections—should never be used in animal agriculture.

In total, across Walmart’s 15 batches there were 32 positive bacterial findings, including:

  • Enterococcus in 13 batches
  • E. coli in 10 batches
  • Salmonella in six batches
  • Listeria in three batches

All batches that tested positive for three or more bacteria were sold at Walmart.

While Walmart has not yet made a time-bound commitment to phase out sow stalls in its supply chain, several of its competitors have. Target and Costco have committed to only partner with suppliers who do not use gestation crates by 2022 and Kroger by 2025.

“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,” said Alesia Soltanpanah, executive director of World Animal Protection U.S., in a press release. “In fact, 88% of Walmart customers surveyed agreed that supermarkets have a responsibility to ensure that pigs are treated well, and 78% would be more inclined to shop at a retailer that planned to eliminate cages from its pork supply.”

Report (pdf)

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