Restaurants urged to cut antibiotic usage

Food companies have been asked by investors to stop sourcing their meat and poultry from suppliers that use antibiotics.

Financial backers, including Aviva Investors and Coller Capital wrote a letter to a collection of restaurant chains asking them to take action in reducing the levels of antibiotics reaching consumers.

While we agree that antibiotics should be used for the treatment of sick animals, they should not be used to support irresponsible practices such as growth promotion or routine disease prevention of animals kept in closely confined and unsanitary conditions, the letter reads.

The partnership, brought together by the Farm Animal Investment Risk & Return (FAIRR) Initiative and ShareAction, with support from US investor group ICCR and US non-profit As You Sow, was established in response to warnings from the World Health Organization (WHO) that irresponsible antibiotic practices could lead to damaging effects.

Just on Monday, the British Poultry Councils (BPC) Antibiotic Stewardship Scheme, which covers 90% of poultry production, revealed that antibiotic usage by scheme members dropped by 44% between 2012 and 2015.

FAIRR highlighted that around half of all antibiotics produced in the UK are given to livestock, with this number rising to 80% in the US.

There is mounting evidence that antibiotic overuse in global meat and poultry supply chains can have an impact on human resistance to these vital drugs, said Mara Lilley, campaign officer at ShareAction and author of the report The restaurant sector and antibiotic risk.

But shockingly, five of the 10 giant global companies we looked at have no clear policy on antibiotic use in their meat supply chains. We are very pleased to see investors drawing on this research to inform a much-needed conversation with companies they invest in about safe use of antibiotics in the meat sector. These are well-known restaurant brands producing food that millions of us consume every day, and they need to be operating responsibly.

Among the 10 restaurant chains that have been approached by the initiative are Dominos Pizza Group, JD Wetherspoon and McDonalds Corporation.

These large food companies are key ingredients in the portfolios of our pensions and savings thus it is a case of proper risk management to ask them to work out how they will meet this challenge, commented Jeremy Coller, founder of the FAIRR Initiative and chief information officer of Coller Capital.

The world is changing, regulation on antibiotic use is set to tighten and consumer preferences are shifting away from factory-farmed food. As stewards of these food companies and responsible investors, we want to protect both human health and shareholder value.

The coalition has been welcomed by the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA), although it said that the issue should be approached with caution.

We recognise concerns about growing resistance to antibiotics, but in humans, resistance is largely attributed to human medical use, with a recent study confirming farm animal use could be responsible for as few as one in every 370 clinical cases. Despite this, resistance is a threat in animals too, and the farming industry, as well as those looking after the health of horses and pets, must do its bit to control spread.

The concept that food companies work sustainably with their supply chains to reduce the need for antibiotic use in farm animals is welcomed by RUMA; this is already happening. However, its critical that potential impacts on welfare, food safety, product quality and investment are fully understood by the businesses involved, so that farmers have the confidence, means and support to make any necessary changes.

RUMA also pointed out that it was important that issues did not end up being exploited as a marketing tool. There is a risk that misrepresentation of facts and a failure to appreciate the situation in different countries could end up harming welfare, cause unnecessary suffering and lead to significant losses in our farm livestock sector.

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