Denny’s, Greene King and eight other food businesses have come under pressure from big investors to end the unnecessary use of antibiotics in their supply chains. Concerns are mounting that overuse of these drugs is damaging human health.
A coalition of 71 investors, which collectively oversee more than $2tn in assets, warned that excessive use of antibiotics in meat and poultry supply chains could have “frightening” health and financial consequences.
Papa John’s, the pizza company, Whitbread, the British company behind Costa Coffee, and the Cheesecake Factory, the US restaurant chain, will also be targeted by the coalition this year.
The fear is that regular use of the medicines in animals is leading to antibiotic resistance in humans, leaving food companies at risk of losses if governments attempt to tackle the growing threat to public health.
Jeremy Coller, chief investment officer of Coller Capital, the private equity house, said: “The potential cost of anti-microbial resistance to our health and wealth is truly frightening.”
The coalition, which includes Aviva Investors, the £319bn fund manager, and Boston Common Asset Management, the US investment house, has urged food and restaurant companies to introduce comprehensive public policies on antibiotics use across their meat and poultry supply chains.
The group wants restaurant and pub companies to prevent the routine use of antibiotics by their meat and poultry suppliers, particularly of so-called last line of defence antibiotics that are vital for human health.
Estimated global cost of antimicrobial resistance by 2050
A 2014 report by Public Health England estimated that, by 2050, the global cost of antimicrobial resistance will be as much as $100tn and will account for 10m deaths a year — more people than currently die from cancer.
Chickens, pigs and other animals that are raised in closed quarters are often given antibiotics to prevent infection, or to help increase growth. The fear is that eating them might boost antibiotic resistance in humans.
Clare Richards, campaigns manager at ShareAction, the responsible investment organisation that brought the investors together, said: “Sick animals should receive treatment, but medically important antibiotics should have no place in masking the symptoms of poor animal welfare conditions.
“Companies that fail to adequately address this risk are missing a trick: neglecting both their opportunity to offer leadership in the face of a public health crisis, plus the chance to positively differentiate themselves from their competitors.”
Lauren Compere, director of shareholder engagement at Boston Common, added that the EU and the US have already begun fighting the use of antibiotics for growth promotion. “[There is a] financial risk linked to companies not anticipating [regulatory changes]. As long-term investors, we have to think about the risks the [companies] face.”
A spokesperson for Whitbread said its suppliers do not feed antibiotics to animals to prevent disease, and will only use the medicines when “absolutely necessary” to treat an ill animal.
Greene King said: “[We] work closely with our suppliers to ensure they comply with our policy to use antibiotics only when a bacterial infection is present and not as part of routine management or for cost benefits.”
Papa John’s, Denny’s and The Cheesecake Factory did not respond to a request for comment.