An independent laboratory in Germany has claimed to find that more than half of the fresh chicken products sold in Lidl GB 'contain antibiotic-resistant superbugs.'

However, Lidl has since countered these claims and said: "In the last 12 months there have been no micro-related deviations outside of legal levels".

The report, commissioned by several animal welfare charities, including Open Cages,  examined the following: "40 fresh chicken products sold in Lidl’s UK stores under its flagship “Birchwood British” chicken brand."

The products were purchased in 5 different stores across the UK. The lab alleged these findings:

  • Multi-resistant bacteria (ESBL or MRSA) on 23 products (57.5%) - bacteria that no longer respond to certain antimicrobial treatment, making infections difficult or impossible to treat,
  • Faecal bacteria E-Coli on 19 products (47.5%) - a strand of which recently caused more than a hundred people in the UK to become ill, and Listeria on 12 products (30%).

“The presence of multi-resistant bacteria in meat is a worrying trend and represents a serious public health concern”, says Timothy Walsh, Professor of Medical Microbiology and Antibiotic Resistance at the University of Oxford.

“People can get ill from processing and consuming contaminated meat, and the use of human antibiotics in animal production can have a profound long-term effect on the effectiveness of antibiotics to treat human infections.” 

Lidl deny findings: "Food safety is a priority for our business"

A spokesperson for Lidl said: "Food safety is a priority for our business and all products are subject to extensive quality controls throughout the supply chain. We work closely with our suppliers and a multitude of industry partners, aligning our policies with the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA) and the Food Industry Initiative on Antimicrobials (FIIA) to ensure the responsible and RUMA-recommended use of antibiotics while ensuring animal welfare remains a priority.

"Our own testing shows that in the last 12 months, there have been no micro-related deviations outside of legal levels, and no concerns have been raised to us by any regulatory bodies on this topic. It’s therefore evident and extremely concerning that Open Cages continues to disseminate false and inaccurate information, with the apparent aim of garnering media attention and both scaremongering and misleading the public.

"If Open Cages has any real and verified concerns regarding the presence of pathogens in fresh British chicken, we encourage it to work with verified sources and share its complete findings with either ourselves or with the FSA for further investigation."

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According to experts like Professor Walsh, one of the major causes of resistant bacteria in chicken meat is the use of fast-growing breeds - a practice which is criticised by animal welfare charities like Open Cages.

Professor Walsh continued: “Poor animal welfare is one of the major catalysts for the use of antibiotics and subsequent drivers of antibiotic resistance.

"Improving animal welfare, such as adopting slower-growing breeds in line with the Better Chicken Commitment, can significantly reduce the need for antibiotics to be given to the birds in the first place.

"UK supermarkets have a responsibility and obligation to ensure that the meat sold is safe for consumption and free from antibiotic-resistant pathogens.”

What is the Better Chicken Commitment (BCC)?

In March, Lidl announced it would improve its chicken welfare standards.

The Better Chicken Commitment (BCC) is a set of welfare measures designed by animal welfare specialists, that prohibits the use of fast-growing breeds. 

Connor Jackson, CEO of Open Cages, told Newsquest: “By Lidl’s own admission, their internal testing didn’t pick up on the massive amounts of dangerous bacteria the independent laboratory of scientists found.

"This is unsurprising, given how poor the conditions are on their chicken farms too. Lidl’s approach to its chicken supply chain seems to be all about looking the other way and then shooting the messenger when the reality is exposed. Lidl also claims to be open to discussing the findings with us.

"However, I reached out to Lidl several times over the past few months asking for a meeting. They never replied.”