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Investor group warns US farm antibiotics lagging

One of the largest agricultural investor groups has warned the United States that it is lagging behind Europe on antibiotics and is urging companies to phase out their routine use on healthy livestock.

Growing gap between US and Europe on antibiotic reduction

The Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return (FAIRR), which manages $2.3 trillion of assets, said there was a growing policy gap between the US and Europe on action to reduce antibiotic use in livestock.

62 investors backed statement to close gap

A group of 62 concerned investors have backed a new statement urging companies to act to close this policy gap. The initiative comes in the week that the US Department of Agriculture criticised the new World Health Organisation antibiotic guidelines for farmers saying “they were not in alignment with US policy and are not supported by sound science.”

The investor statement highlights:

  • That in the US, an estimated 75% of antibiotics are being used on farm animals compared to 70% in the EU and 45% in the UK
  • That this overuse of antibiotics in livestock production is recognised by the World Health Organisation as an important factor in the emergence of antimicrobial resistance worldwide
  • That companies that fail to act are likely to face significant impacts on their brand and reputation, threatening sales and profits.

Antibiotic Reduction Special: A selection of articles that explore different areas of animal production that can be optimised to better protect animals, which in turn, diminishes the need for preventative or sub-therapeutic medicine.

Phasing out timelines needed

The statement calls for the establishment of a comprehensive antibiotics policy that includes clear timelines for phasing out routine, non-therapeutic use of antibiotics across all poultry, livestock and seafood supply chains.

FAIRR has also produced a Best Practice Policy on Antibiotics Stewardship, which has been endorsed by a range of organisations, including the UK-based Alliance to Save our Antibiotics, Compassion in World Farming and the Antibiotic Resistance Action Centre at George Washington University.

Analysis show that US and Canadian regulation is failing to keep pace with countries such as Germany, Netherlands and Denmark. Photo: Bart Nijs
Analysis show that US and Canadian regulation is failing to keep pace with countries such as Germany, Netherlands and Denmark. Photo: Bart Nijs

FDA guidance too weak to have an impact

It says analysis show that US and Canadian regulation is failing to keep pace with countries such as Germany, Netherlands and Denmark. For example, an EU-wide ban is in place to stop factory farms routinely administering antibiotics to healthy animals without prescriptions or to boost growth. However, only limited restrictions or a voluntary ban is in place in the US in these areas. FAIRR’s findings suggest new, voluntary, US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidance introduced this year is too weak to have an impact.

Companies introducing antibiotic use policies

It also highlighted 4 UK companies – the Restaurant Group, Greene King, Whitbread and Domino’s Pizza Group – for committing last year to plashing out routine antibiotics on all livestock species, including poultry. In comparison, US firms Brinker International and Bloomin’ Brands called out for weak policies and failed to respond to investors.

Jeremy Coller, CIO of Coller Capital and FAIRR founder, said investors were fired up by the issue: “The rise of tiny antibiotics-resistant superbugs posed a colossal threat to both human health and the global economy. Big restaurant chains are in the eye of the storm and while investors are pleased by the growing number of commitments to responsible use of antibiotics, the magnitude of the risk demands swifter and deeper action.

Poultry is not the only concern

“The clear message from this investor engagement is that we shouldn’t count our chickens only.. producers of beef, pork and other livestock species also need to phase out the use of antibiotics critical to human medicine.”

While US firms such as McDonald’s Corp and poultry producers Tyson Foods Inc have moved to reduce or eliminate medically important antibiotics from their poultry supply chain, there is concern that they have yet to make similar commitments on beef and pork, Reuters reported.

Jagdeep Singh Bachler, chief investment officer for the University of California’s Board of Regents, said: “As investors, we should be urging all US food companies to adopt a comprehensive best practice antibiotics stewardship policy which reduces the use of these medically crucial drugs.”

3 comments

  • David Burch

    I am somewhat surprised that FAIRR investors are so concerned about the US situation. Have they been correctly advised that since 1st of January 2017 that the US has banned the use of antibiotics of importance in human medicine (FDA GFI 152) for growth promotion and in-feed and in-drinking water medication has come under veterinary supervision and control? The industry was under no illusions that if they did not follow the FDA guidance (GFI 209; GFI 213) that prescriptive legislation may be introduced. To date the EU has not banned the use of antibiotics for prevention. It has been advised not do so, as it could damage the health, welfare and productive efficiency of infected birds and animals kept in groups. The US was one of the first countries to ban fluoroquinolones in poultry, so are not so far behind the EU. It is early days to see how the industries respond, it isn't even a year yet. However, a step wise approach makes the most sense, rather than a risky leap into the dark or a backward step into less efficient, more costly organic production.

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