The UK pig industry has backed calls to improve stewardship of antimicrobials in global pork production in order to ensure a level playing field.
The National Pig Association (NPA) has issued a statement in response to calls for retailers to publish more antibiotic data, including usage associated with imported food.
A study of pork found on retail shelves in Spain, Brazil and Thailand has found evidence of bacteria resistant to antibiotics categorised as critically important to humans.
World Animal Protection, which carried out the study, sought to link the results to factory farming.
It called on British supermarkets to regularly publish data on antibiotic use in their supply chains "to show they are meeting targets to reduce antibiotic use and ensure high animal welfare standards, regardless of where pigs are raised".
Currently, Asda, Co-op Waitrose and Marks & Spencer publish volumes of antibiotics used in their meat products.
In a statement, the British Retail Consortium said UK retailers were "aligned in their commitment to work collaboratively across the supply chain to agree a harmonised approach to responsible use of medicines".
“The decision to publish supply chain information is taken in line with each companies’ own transparency policies but is not intended to detract from the collaborative supply chain approach which will deliver long term sustainable benefits,” it said.
“Sourcing of non-UK product always meets legal requirements and where possible is augmented by brand standards including recognised industry best practice.
"The UK and EU risk assessments on transmission of AMR bacteria through food conclude that the risk to human health remains low and we welcome the FSA advice to encourage through cooking and good hygiene practice in the home.
"This will reduce the presence of all bacteria including any with antimicrobial resistance. Retailers provide cooking and handling advice on product labels and on websites."
In an article on the findings published by The Independent, Lidl UK said its animal-welfare policy banned routine usage of antibiotics and its suppliers were required to monitor usage through adherence to the Red Tractor scheme’s antibiotic use standards.
A spokesman said: “We are committed to meeting sector targets and fully support the disclosure of antibiotic usage. However, we believe it is important to support suppliers through the development of a centralised, industry-wide approach.
"We work closely with RUMA (Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance) and industry groups, including the NFU, BRC, National Pig Association and Compassion in World Farming.”
NPA senior policy advisor, Georgina Crayford, said the UK pig industry has made "huge strides" in reducing and refining antibiotic use over the past two years.
“We therefore support calls to improve stewardship of antimicrobials in global pork production, as antimicrobial resistant (AMR) bacteria do not respect borders,” she said.
"This would also ensure that UK pig producers who adhere to guidelines on responsible use of antibiotics are competing on a level playing field.
“The voluntary submission of farm-level data into the UK pig industry’s pioneering eMB database shows that antibiotic use in UK pigs reduced by more than half between 2015 and 2017, which highlights the commitment of British pig farmers and vets to tackling AMR.
“The NPA questions the assumption that presence of antibiotic resistant bacteria on pork means the pigs experienced poor welfare. Responsible use of antibiotics can be achieved in any system of pig production where there is good focus on prevention of disease and adherence to antibiotic stewardship principles.”