The government has been urged to strengthen policies and regulatory framework in livestock farming to allow for improved animal welfare and responsible use of antibiotics.
In essence, the government should also enforce the existing laws especially those that control access and availability of antibiotics.
This comes at a time when the World Animal Protection (WAP) has expressed concern about the safety of pork and poultry meat being sold in supermarkets after a recent study found significant bacterial contamination on these products.
The study which was conducted between April and July 2020 saw a total of 187 pork samples and 206 chicken samples collected and analyzed from branches of six supermarkets in six selected counties.
Dr. Victor Yamo from the World Animal Protection, said during a webinar that the samples were analyzed for bacterial grown and sensitivity to World Health Organization (WHO) recognized antibiotics in the counties of Nairobi, Kisumu, Nakuru, Laikipia, Uasin Gishu and Nyeri.
“They were analyzed at the Center for Microbiology Research in Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), Nairobi with results showing a high prevalence of bacterial contaminants in 184 pork samples and 199 chicken samples accounting to 98.4 percent and 96.6 percent levels of contamination respectively.
He explained that the most common contaminant was E. coli bacteria, though known enteric pathogens such as Salmonella and Shigella were also present but isolated.
However, Dr. Yamo also clarified that while majority of the contaminants were not necessarily harmful, the presence of Salmonella and Shigella was a matter of concern as there was likelihood of origin from the farm level.
There is therefore need to strengthen food procurement policies in order to discourage animals raised in inhumane production systems and also ensure suppliers of livestock products commit to using antibiotics responsibly on their farms.
“The producers, should move to higher welfare production systems that caters for the fundamental freedoms of the animals and commit to responsible and prudent use of antibiotics in the production system,” he said.
Consumers should use their purchasing power to pressure retailers and supermarkets to source and retail products from high welfare production systems, while committing to better animal welfare by joining WAP campaigns to transform global food systems, added Dr. Yamo.
World Animal Protection is thus calling on stakeholders namely retailers and supermarkets, livestock producers and farmers, government and even consumers to take urgent action in addressing the Multi-drug resistant organisms or superbug crisis.
“Studies have shown that poor animal welfare and stress factors have the potential of increasing the susceptibility of farm animals to diseases, hence increasing the use of antimicrobials to control these infections while reducing the microbiological safety of animal products and threatening public health,” said Dr. Yamo
In the study, 38.5 percent of the 525 bacterial isolates examined recorded resistance to more than three antibiotics, a resistance that was also noted for high priority antibiotics on the WHO list such as Ciprofloxacin, Erythromycin, Vancomycin, Cefoxatime and Cefepime.
This, according to Dr. Yamo is a worrying trend being driven by farmers who are giving antibiotics to their livestock to prevent them from getting sick due to low animal welfare provisions in their farms.
He explained that a study done in Kenya by the Global Antibiotic Resistance Partnership (GARP) last year reported that up to 70 percent of the imported antibiotics are given to chickens, pigs and cows.
“World Animal Protection believes that responsible use of antibiotics in farm animals is essential in tackling the growing Antimicrobial Resistance. This should be done by putting proper policies and measures aimed at reducing the use of antibiotics on animals by promoting higher welfare production systems in the livestock industry”, he said.
Such systems, Dr. Yamo reiterated should include good housing conditions, health care and the promotion of natural animal behaviour and also provision for improved management, biosecurity, hygiene, sanitation, optimal animal husbandry, nutrition, genetics and use of preventive methods such as vaccination, leading to improved animal health and welfare.
“By eliminating the worst methods and practices of animal production such as the use of cages, crowded or desolate conditions, poorly ventilated production units with wet beddings and inadequate feeding systems, animals shall be less stressed hence less likely to suffer illness, leading to less dependency on antibiotics,” added Dr. Yamo.
By Wangari Ndirangu