Science - January 28, 2016

‘Antibiotic-free meat is not always bacteria-free’

Albert Sikkema

The Dutch Sustainable Pork Chain (KDV), a group of 300 pig farmers, abattoirs, retailers and catering firms, wants to produce environmentally and animal-friendly meat. The organization now claims that it can supply meat from pigs that grow up 100 percent free from antibiotics. That will only be a success if the organization is clever in its communication with the consumer, says researcher Nico Bondt of the LEI.

Does the initiative stand a chance?

‘This could well fit into the total KDV concept. KDV has its own outlets and might therefore be able to differentiate itself from the standard meat in the supermarkets. It is difficult, thought, to promote antibiotic-free meat directly to the consumer, because you are profiling yourself in negative terms. You might unintentionally create the impression that there is something wrong with the other meat on the shelves.’

Standard meat contains antibiotics?

‘It wouldn’t surprise me if a lot of people think so, but that is not the case and it is not the issue. The issue is that the pigs on the farms didn’t get antibiotics. That doesn’t mean that the meat at the butchers is necessarily free of antibiotic-resistant organisms, because meat can become infected with these bacteria during the slaughtering process. You’ll have to communicate very clearly about that.  You could present antibiotic-free meat under a Healthy Life logo, for instance.’

Apparently the supermarkets are interested.

Antibiotic use in the livestock sector is an issue at the supermarkets, which feel the pressure of public opinion in favour of cutting down. So perhaps where antibiotic-free meat really goes down well is in the business-to-business trade, between the abattoir and the supermarket or butcher.’

Are the production costs higher for this pork?

‘It’s not too bad. You don’t necessarily have to build a whole new shed. You do have to pay extra attention to the design of the shed, climate control, feed and management, and you can often do that fine in an existing shed. But it doesn’t happen by itself. The KDV pig farmers have made big efforts to reduce antibiotic use, experimenting for years and exchanging experiences.’