Food activists find unlikely allies in a consortium of investors determined to scale back the use of antibiotics in food production. The surprising move comes as the World Health Organisation (WHO) fears that the overuse of antibiotics is in danger of creating a “post-antibiotic” era.
In this apocalyptic scenario, scientists speculate that people will die from routine operations as antibiotics are no longer effective in stopping infection.
The investors, based in the City of London, control more than $1 trillion in assets, and wrote to leading pub, restaurant, and fast food companies to urge them to take immediate action to dramatically reduce the use of antibiotics in meat and poultry supply chains.
The 54 investors wrote to 10 companies in both the UK and US, expressing their concerns. The consortium claimed that 80% of antibiotics produced in the US and 45% in the UK produced are given to livestock. The group emphasised that this threatened both health – and, crucially, investor returns.
“These large food companies are key ingredients in the portfolios of most 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,” said Jeremy Coller of Coller Capital.
The group claimed that antibiotic resistance could cost the world $100 trillion in lost output by 2020. The food producers and suppliers fought back however, attempting to dispel the notion that antibiotics were used unnecessarily in disease prevention and boosting the size of livestock.
Antibiotic resistance seems to have been spreading at an alarming rate, with a dangerous strain of campylobactor on the increase in the UK. The virus is the leading cause of food-poisoning, and resistance to the antibiotic ciprofloxacin was at its highest in 2015.
In 48% of cases of campylobactor food-poisoning, the virus was found to have resistance. Many blame excessive antibiotic use in farming.
Domino’s denied that antibiotics were used for anything other than treating necessary diseases, and also said they would review antibiotic use regardless.
“We are also encouraging our suppliers to reduce the use of antibiotics for therapeutic purposes, and trials are under way to assess the feasibility of achieving this goal,” said Nina Arnott, Domino’s Pizza Group spokesperson.
British restaurant chain-owners Mitchells & Butlers responded in the same way. McDonalds announced that as early as 2001 they’ve been monitoring and controlling antibiotic levels in their chicken. They added that in 2015, its American operations committed to “only source chickens raised without antibiotics important to human medicine”.
The letter is based upon research conducted by ShareAction and Farm Animal Investment Risk & Return, about corporate attitudes around antimicrobial resistance.
The report is now out.