The launch of an antibiotics “engagement campaign” by 54 institutional investors, aimed at 10 of the biggest US and UK restaurant chains, has drawn a prompt and “factual” response from the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA).
The investors’ stance is that the 10 food businesses need to “end the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics important to human health in their global meat and poultry supply chains”. They also quote a new report – The restaurant sector and antibiotic risk – from the investor group FAIRR and the investment charity ShareAction, claiming that half of the 10 have “no publicly available policies in place to manage or mitigate antibiotic overuse in their supply chains”.
RUMA’s statement, in response, majors on the need to get the facts straight and to avoid exploiting antibiotic resistance for marketing purposes.
“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,” said RUMA.
The alliance also said it “welcomed” the concept that food companies should work sustainably with their supply chains to reduce the need for antibiotic use in farm animals. It then added, pointedly, that this concept is “already happening”.
“It’s 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,” said RUMA. “It is equally important this issue does 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. For example, while a reported 70% of antibiotics in the US might be used to tackle disease challenges in farm animals, it’s only 40% in the UK, with Public Health England figures showing medical use of antibiotics is actually 2.4 times that of veterinary.
“Furthermore, use of antibiotics as growth promoters has been banned in the EU since 2006; antibiotics are only available in the UK on prescription from vets; and the industry has already opted for restrictions to use a number of antibiotics classed as critically important for human health, such as 3rd and 4th generation cephalosporins, fluoroquinolones and colistin, only when truly necessary.”
The investors’ group includes Aviva Investors, Natixis Asset Management, ACTIAM, Mirova, Coller Capital and Strathclyde Pension Fund. The 10 food chains include J D Wetherspoon, McDonald’s and Domino’s Pizza Group.