EUROPE – A recent independently commissioned study has revealed that nearly half of the raw chicken sold at Lidl stores across Europe is contaminated with antibiotic-resistant foodborne pathogens.

Lidl, the largest grocery chain in Europe, is a major meat distributor on the continent, amplifying the significance of these findings.

From December 2023 to March 2024, 142 packages of Lidl brand fresh chicken meat were purchased from 22 Lidl stores across five countries: Italy, Germany, the UK, Poland, and Spain.

The samples represented various cuts of chicken meat—wing, thigh, drumstick, and breast—and were kept cold during transport to the laboratory to maintain the integrity of the samples.

Laboratory analysis focused on identifying important pathogens commonly associated with foodborne illnesses, including Salmonella, Campylobacter jejuni, Listeria monocytogenes, Escherichia coli, and Enterococci.

Additionally, the samples were tested for antibiotic-resistant bacteria, particularly methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and bacteria producing extended-spectrum beta-lactamases (ESBL), indicators of antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

Pathogen and Resistance Findings

The analysis revealed concerning levels of contamination, with antibiotic-resistant bacteria present in 50 percent of the samples. MRSA was detected in 23 percent, E. coli in 57 percent, Salmonella in 9.2 percent, L. monocytogenes in 33.1 percent, and C. jejuni in 28.2 percent. Enterococci were present in 47.9 percent of the samples.

Only 1.4 percent of the samples tested negative for all targeted bacteria. Notably, nearly all Salmonella-positive samples were from Italian Lidl stores, while Campylobacter was not detected in any Italian or UK samples but was found in significant percentages in German, Polish, and Spanish samples.

MRSA was absent in Italian and German samples but present in UK, Polish, and Spanish samples.

Antimicrobial resistance specifics

Regarding AMR, 50 percent of the samples contained bacteria exhibiting resistance, with ESBL-producing bacteria found in 35.2 percent and MRSA in 23 percent.

Identified ESBL-producing bacteria included Klebsiella pneumoniae, E. coli, and Serratia fonticola. Complete bacterial typing was not conducted, suggesting the presence of other ESBL-producing bacteria.

In Italy, 33 percent of samples contained multidrug-resistant bacteria. Spain had the highest rate of resistant bacteria at 71 percent, followed by the UK, Italy, Poland, and Germany.

Context and response

The report, commissioned by animal welfare advocacy groups from the five countries, was led by Essere Animali in Italy, with contributions from Fondazione Albert Schweitzer in Germany, Observatorio de Bienestar Animal in Spain, Open Cages in the UK, and Otwarte Klatki/Fundacja Alberta Schweitzera in Poland.

Essere Animali highlights that irresponsible antimicrobial use on farms, especially in large-scale operations with poor living conditions, contributes to the global rise of AMR. Such conditions can increase the frequency of illness and the rate at which pathogens spread.

Essere Animali’s investigation into Lidl chicken meat was driven by Lidl’s reluctance to sign the EU Better Chicken Commitment, a six-point welfare policy addressing issues related to breeding, housing, stocking density, and slaughter.

Despite over 200 companies, including TGI Friday’s, Kraft Heinz, and Nestle, having signed the commitment, Lidl argues that its criteria are not compatible with current Italian infrastructure and capabilities.

In response to the report, Lidl stated its commitment to the continuous development of animal welfare standards.

The company emphasized its active collaboration with suppliers and non-governmental organizations to promote sustainable practices and ensure that its fresh chicken meat comes from farms meeting adequate standards.

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