By Sharon Atieno

Though considerable number of people in Kenya purchase their meat from supermarkets, a study reveals that pork and chicken meat from these outlets have high levels of bacterial contamination which raises safety concerns.

The study conducted by World Animal Protection(WAP) in 2020 saw a total of 187 pork samples and 206 chicken samples collected from branches of six supermarkets in Nairobi, Kisumu, Nakuru, Laikipia, Uasin Gishu and Nyeri.

The results from the Center for Microbiology Research in Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), Nairobi showed that 98.4% of 184 pork samples and 96.6% of 199 chicken meat samples were mostly contaminated with E.coli, a common bacteria and pathogens such as Salmonella and Shigella were also isolated.

During the report’s launch WAP said though most of  the contaminants were not necessarily harmful, the presence of Salmonella and Shigella was concerning as there was a likelihood of an animal origin from the farm level.

A chicken factory farm
Photo credits: WAP

“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 those infections while reducing the microbiological safety of animal products and threatening public health,” said Dr. Victor Yamo, WAP.

In the study, 38.5% of the 525 bacterial isolates examined recorded resistance to more than three antibiotics (Multi-drug resistant organisms or Superbugs). This resistance was also noted for high priority antibiotics on the World Health Organization (WHO) list such as Ciprofloxacin, Erythromycin, Vancomycin, Cefoxatime and Cefepime.

According to Dr. Yamo, the trend was 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.

Another study done in Kenya by the Global Antibiotic Resistance Partnership (GARP) reported that up to 70% of the imported antibiotics are given to chickens, pigs and cows.

A pig farm
Photo credits: WAP

Dr. Yamo noted that responsible use of antibiotics in farm animals is essential in tackling the growing antimicrobial resistance in humans. He called for proper policies and measures aimed at reducing antibiotics use in animals by championing improved production systems that would promote welfare of the animals.

Recommended improved production systems include good housing conditions, health care and the promotion of natural animal behaviour.

“By eliminating the worst methods and practices of animal production such as the use of cages, crowded or barren 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. High welfare production standards are not only good for animals but also for people – their health, livelihoods and businesses,” said Dr.Yamo, who is also the Secretary of the Kenya Animal Health Network.

In a statement, WAP urged retailers and supermarkets to strengthen their food procurement policies in order to discourage meat, poultry and pork from animals raised in inhumane production systems from accessing their outlets as well as to ensure that their livestock products suppliers commit to responsible use of antibiotics on their farms.

The animal welfare organization also called on governments to strengthen policies and regulatory framework in livestock farming to allow for improved welfare and responsible antibiotic use of antibiotics, and enforce available laws especially those that control the access and availability of antibiotics.

While WAP urged livestock producers and farmers to 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; it called on consumers to use their purchasing power to pressure retailers and supermarkets to source and retail products from high welfare production systems and commit to better animal welfare by joining campaigns to transform global food systems.