Bureau wins prestigious prize for superbugs investigation

The Bureau has won Britain's top accolade for investigative science journalism at the 2019 Association of British Science Writers (ABSW) Awards.

The Bureau’s health and science team won the Steve Connor Award for Investigative Journalism for their story on the continued use of one of the world’s most precious antibiotics just to make chickens grow faster. The World Health Organisation has called for a ban on the drug - colistin - being used in this way as it fuels the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or superbugs, which can infect and kill humans and animals.

There are already bans in place in the UK, Europe, USA, China and Brazil. The investigation by Madlen Davies, Ben Stockton and freelancer Rahul Meesaraganda, who is based in India was published with The Times, The Lancet Journal of Infectious Diseases and The Hindu, India’s second-biggest English-language newspaper.

It revealed thousands of tonnes of colistin were still being shipped around the world to be added to livestock feed. Venky’s, India’s largest poultry company, which also owns Blackburn Rovers football team in the UK, was marketing the drug to Indian farmers as a growth promoter.

The company supplies KFC, McDonalds and Pizza Hut in India, although the fast food brands said no growth promoting antibiotics were used in chickens supplied to them.

After the story was published Venky’s stopped marketing the drug to make livestock grow faster. It also prompted lawyers in Mumbai to act, and they launched a legal bid with the Bombay High Court, putting the story before the court as evidence.

In July, the court ordered veterinary drug stores across the state to stop selling antibiotics for use on livestock unless the farmer has a prescription. The Indian government is also now considering a nationwide ban on use of colistin as a growth promoter.

The ABSW judges praised the team's journalism and the effect it is having in the real world describing it as: “A tremendous amount of thorough work in a potentially life-saving investigation.”

The other finalists in the category included the Guardian’s science correspondent Hannah Devlin and reporter Sarah Marsh for their work revealing widespread bullying in British universities and Mark Peplow for his story in Chemical & Engineering News highlighting flaws in the system of integrity around publishing scientific results.

Freelance journalist Michael Power was also shortlisted for his sting on a Chinese drugs factory which offered to supply the raw materials to make £25m worth of a recreational drug, published in Mixmag.

The Steve Connor Award for Investigative Journalism is named after the distinguished science journalist who died in 2017 and was famous for his scoops. The Bureau's work on the problems caused by superbugs has been supported by the European Journalism Centre.

Header picture shows health and science team Madlen Davies and Ben Stockton with their prize-winning mugs.


  • Brijmohan Malvi

    All who know science must launch a campaign to promote public awareness regarding microbial life on earth and ways of living in harmony with them. The ancient people of Vedik period in India knew this.

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