It sounds like the stuff of sci-fi horror, but it’s a prospect that we finally waking up to. We have turned the world into a massive lab of superbugs, due to antibiotic abuse, especially in animal farming. Animal farming gets singled out on this issue because antiobiotics has become the only way animals can endure the few months of intense confinement until they are slaughtered. In pig farms, for instance, animals have poor immune systems because they are taken away from their mothers while still suckling. The industry responds by stuffing them medication, which then streams down into consumers, threatening public health.
The issue has become some big that the World Health Organization has created a World Antibiotics Awareness Week, which this year took place between November 14 and 20. Superbugs and loss of efficacy of drugs against known diseases are two of the consequence of antibiotics abuse. Infections such as pneumonia, tuberculosis and gonorrhoea are becoming harder to treat as the antibiotics used to treat them become less effective.
In response to this growing concern, a new brief has been released highlighting the risks to global investors from the systematic overuse of antibiotics in livestock farming. The briefing has been published by Aviva Investors, the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics and the FAIRR (Farm Animal Investment Risk & Return) Initiative.
FAIRR has also reported progress on a major engagement with large food companies on the issue of overreliance on antibiotics in farming. In April an investor coalition managing assets of more than $1trillion called for an end to the routine use of antibiotics important to human health in their global meat and poultry supply chains.
FAIRR already reports some progress just over six months after the public launch of this initiative, coordinated in partnership with responsible investment charity ShareAction. The Restaurant Group (including brands such as Frankie & Benny’s and Garfunkel’s) has committed to take steps to phase out the routine, preventative use of antibiotics in their supply chain and to refine its use of antibiotics classed as ‘critically important’ by the World Health Organization.
Besides, more than half of the companies approached by the investor group report that their usage of antibiotics is under review or they are considering changes. All companies approached by the investors responded.
But there is a long way to go into this issue is further embedded in corporate practices. The vast majority of corporate farm antibiotic use policies are either piecemeal or unambitious in their scope, with many company responses failing to address the specific concerns outlined by the investor coalition.
“The cost of anti-microbial resistance to our health and our wealth is truly frightening. Growing resistance is projected to lead to a 2% to 3.5% drop in global GDP and some 10 million deaths by 2050. It’s already reported to cost the EU around $1.5 billion in healthcare and productivity loss. These and other killer stats prove the time for investors to act is now,” says Jeremy Coller, FAIRR founder and CIO of Coller Capital.
Image credit: WHO