Global charity discovers superbugs in pork products

Toronto, ON, Dec. 19, 2018 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics most critically important to humans, has been found in pork from supermarket shelves in Brazil, Spain and Thailand. This is a symptom of the routine overuse of antibiotics propping up low-welfare practices in pig farming and it contributes to the superbug crisis says  World Animal Protection.

The charity tested pork from the shelves of supermarkets in Australia, Brazil, Spain and Thailand, finding ‘superbugs’ resistant to antibiotics of highest critical importance to humans in three of the four countries. This includes samples from Carrefour in Spain and Walmart in Brazil.

The results shockingly highlight how the overuse of antibiotics in factory farming has become a band-aid solution to prevent cramped and stressed animals from getting sick, while also contributing to the superbug crisis.

The findings support existing evidence that routine overuse of antibiotics in farm animals is a significant contributor to the rise of superbugs, as recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations. Superbugs in the food chain can cause food poisoning, blood poisoning, urinary tract infections and in some cases, even death.

Three quarters of the world’s antibiotics are used in farming annually, with the highest use in pigs. Routine overuse is often associated with low-welfare practices.

While in Canada, antibiotic use in the livestock industry has decreased over the past few years, administering antibiotics to farm animals for disease prevention and sometimes growth, is still commonplace.

“We hope the legislation requiring farmers to obtain a prescription for antibiotics, which came into effect on December 1st, will reduce the indiscriminate use of antibiotics on farm animals. However, improving farming conditions so that animals are kept in healthier, less-stressful environments is also critical”, says Josey Kitson, Executive Director of World Animal Protection, Canada.

Some of the cruel practices typically associated with low-welfare farms, that are leading to lifelong suffering and overuse of antibiotics on pig farms include:

  • Piglets are taken from their mothers far too early and mother pigs are used as breeding machines, kept in steel cages no bigger than a fridge, unable to turn around and enduring immense stress.1
  • Piglets are cruelly mutilated often with no pain relief: their tails are cut, their teeth are ground or clipped, their ears-notched and most male piglets are castrated.2
  • Pigs are cramped in dark, squalid warehouses forced to lie in their own waste. This creates stressful conditions that provide the perfect breeding ground for the spread of infection, leading to routine overuse of antibiotics.

World Animal Protection is calling for global supermarkets to urgently improve the lives of pigs by only sourcing pork from high-welfare farms.

World Animal Protection, Head of Farming, Jacqueline Mills said: “We tested pork products to see for ourselves how the pig industry contributes to superbugs and to provide evidence to supermarkets to urge them to take responsibility and help to raise pigs right. Factory farm conditions for pigs cause them immense pain and stress, which involves a steady overuse of antibiotics. But there is a better way. Supermarkets must demand their suppliers improve the welfare of pigs. Higher-welfare systems allow for responsible antibiotic use, as has been demonstrated in Sweden.”

In 1986, Sweden became the first country to ban antibiotics use exclusively for growth promotion and have also moved to higher welfare systems. Sows are not allowed to be confined to cages, pigs cannot be tail-docked and they must be provided with bedding materials.5

World Animal Protection is working with producers to develop higher welfare systems, to get pigs out of cages and into social groups with materials to allow for expression of natural behaviour. In Canada, this includes encouraging Walmart on reaffirming their commitment to raising pregnant pigs in group and pen housing by 2022.

Join World Animal Protection and demand your supermarket makes a commitment to only sell pork from pigs that have been raised right. 

Find out more here: 

Notes to Editors

  1. For media interviews, images or video clips, please contact: Nina Devries, 416-369-0044 ext 100
  2. Superbugs are antibiotic-resistant bacteria and have been called one of the biggest threats to global health and development. The overuse of antibiotics has led to the spread of superbugs, and could affect millions of people around the world, especially in developing countries. 700,000 people worldwide die each year from antibiotic-resistant infections, and this is projected to rise to 10 million deaths annually by 2050.
  3. A series of international research studies conducted for World Animal Protection found that, eight out of ten consumers (80%) in Brazil, Thailand and Australia are concerned about the human health impact of routine overuse of antibiotics in farm animals.
  4. Since the launch of World Animal Protection’s Raise Pigs Right Campaign in 2018, the largest supermarket chain in the US, Kroger, has committed to ending the confinement of pregnant pigs by 2025. In Thailand, Tops Market and Central Food Hall have committed to ending confinement of pregnant pigs by 2027.
  5. In addition to banning antibiotics used for growth, Sweden introduced a veterinary prescription requirement for antibiotic use to prevent or treat disease. As of 2015, there has been a 65% decrease in antibiotic use in pigs from pre-ban levels. The government also incentivized the move to higher welfare, paying a subsidy to pig producers with welfare practices above the legal minimum.
  6. As of June 2018, private equity firm Advent International took an 80% stake in Walmart Brazil with Walmart Inc retaining a 20% stake.


World Animal Protection (formerly known as the World Society for the Protection of Animals) has moved the world to protect animals for the last 50 years. World Animal Protection works to give animals a better life. Its activities include working with companies to ensure high standards of welfare for the animals in their care, working with governments and other stakeholders to prevent wild animals being cruelly traded, trapped or killed, and saving the lives of animals and the livelihoods of the people who depend on them in disaster situations.

World Animal Protection influences decision makers to put animals on the global agenda, and it inspires people to protect animals and to change animals’ lives for the better. More information on World Animal Protection can be found at:

1 In Canada, by 2024 the industry aims for all barns to have been converted to group housing for pregnant pigs for up to 35 days after insemination.

2 Since 2016, castration is required to be carried out with pain relief in Canada.


Many pregnant pigs live in cramped cages where they can barely move, with no enrichment. This causes severe stress, discomfort and suffering. However, these methods are still used in many parts of the world. The lack of stimulation and space can cause abnormal behaviours,such as sitting like a dog. Consequently, this can also lead to urinary infections.

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