A number of pork samples purchased from Walmart locations in the Eastern United States contained dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria (also known as “superbugs”), according to a new report published by animal-welfare group World Animal Protection. Antibiotics are typically used in low-welfare factory farms to stop the spread of disease between closely confined animals and 70 percent of all medically important antibiotics are sold in the US for use on farmed animals. World Animal Protection purchased 160 pork samples at several Walmart locations and a competing Mid-Atlantic retailer. The samples, 80 from each retailer, were analyzed by researchers at Texas Tech University 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 and 80 percent of the Walmart batch contained at least one bacteria that was resistant to a critically or highly important antibiotic. Walmart’s samples were the only ones that contained bacteria that were resistant to four or more classes of antibiotics, including the Highest Priority Critically Important Antimicrobials (HPCIAs).
“The presence of multidrug-resistant bacteria on pork products illustrates the role the pork supply chain plays in the global health crisis caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria,” Alesia Soltanpanah, Executive Director of World Animal Protection US, said. “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.” More than 2.8 million cases of antibiotic-resistant infections now occur annually in the US, and 35,000 people die as a result, according to the Center for Disease Control. World Animal Protection is calling upon Walmart—and all other supermarkets—to commit to better animal-welfare standards to address the issue, including eliminating gestation crates, ending painful mutilations, and giving pigs opportunities to engage in natural behaviors such as living in groups.