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Antibiotic Resistance: How Investors Are Changing Responsible Food

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Rosie Wardle, Programme Director at the Jeremy Coller Foundation, is responsible for the organisation’s factory farming initiatives that address the global sustainability consequences of this method of production and associated human health threats including antibiotic resistance. She oversaw the launch of FAIRR in 2015 and speaks to SustainAbility’s Rosie Powell-Tuck about its work.

What is FAIRR and how did it come about?

Five years ago Jeremy Coller of the Jeremy Coller Foundation revisited his philanthropic efforts and realised his real passion was for sustainable food systems, particularly from an animal welfare perspective.

I joined the Foundation to help him set up grant funding programmes including one on the human health impacts of intensive livestock production. We started funding groups like the Alliance to Save our Antibiotics, a coalition of UK-based non-governmental organisations working at EU level to stop preventative antibiotic use in livestock.

We rapidly became convinced that antimicrobial resistance or “AMR”, the development of drug resistance by microbes, was a major issue connected with the food system and one that, at least at that time, was fairly off the radar despite its potentially catastrophic impacts.

While considering our broader strategy to create change within the food system, we realised that there was a real lack of information available for investors on food systems or livestock. We set up FAIRR to address this gap.

When did FAIRR get involved in antimicrobial resistance?

We published our first report, Factory Farming: Assessing Investment Risks when we launched FAIRR in December 2015. This identified antibiotic resistance as one of 28 environmental, social and governance issues connected to the food sector.

We decided to make a deeper dive on this issue given that the implications of AMR for the sector and society are huge. We looked at the risks to investors and started to produce resources that covered why they should be engaging on it, what best practice looks like in the food industry, and how investors can engage day to day with companies on the issue.

The Global Investment Statement on Antibiotic Stewardship is one example of our work in this area. It’s a broad statement of why good stewardship of antibiotics is important from an investment perspective that is now signed up to by 68 investors with assets collectively worth $3trillion.

Which parts of the sector have the greatest room for improvement?

Three months ago, we released the Coller FAIRR Protein Producer Index, the world’s first comprehensive assessment of how the animal protein sector manages environmental, social and governance risks. It focuses on 60 large, global livestock producers and assesses them against nine risk factors including antibiotics.

Quite surprisingly given that we’ve seen movement from restaurants and retailers on this issue, we found that the food producers were very bad at disclosing information on antibiotics. In fact, it was the worst performing of all nine risk factors and 77% of the companies were designated as high risk meaning they either had no policy at all or they had a meaningless policy.

Given that we’ve seen movement from restaurants and retailers on this issue, we found that the food producers were very bad at disclosing information on antibiotics.

And which are performing well?

We are happy to have 74 investors worth US$ 4.9 trillion assets signed up to another initiative that works with twenty global restaurant companies including the likes of McDonald’s and Yum! Brands and asks them to implement a policy to phase out the routine use of antibiotics in livestock supply chains in line with WHO guidelines.

We’ve also had a fairly positive response from the restaurants themselves. When we started two years ago only one company had a public policy and now 16 out of 20 companies have some kind of policy relating to antibiotic resistance. In the majority of cases this is quite limited in scope – for example they might look at just their poultry supply chains in the US – but in the next round of engagement we will be asking more questions around other species and geographies.

In general, we’ve been delighted that since we’ve been looking at this issue we’ve seen a real shift in interest from investors. We’ve now got Dame Sally Davies, the government’s Chief Medical Officer, speaking to the Responsible Investment Forum. And we’ve quadrupled the investor support for the issue during that time, with increasingly mainstream investors joining our initiatives.

What would help to drive this investor movement further still?

More research and concrete guidance on how to practically implement a policy shift within pork and beef supply chains would be helpful.

More analysis and understanding of where consumers are on this topic, beyond the anecdotal evidence that is currently available.

The threat of impending regulation is always significant from an investor perspective. We are watching the EU-level work on banning the preventative use of antibiotics.

Finally, case studies from companies on how they’re acting and improving on this issue are really important – for example, a multinational food company speaking out about this would be powerful.

What will the world look like with respect to AMR in 2030?

It’s a bit terrifying to think of 2030 given projections for increased farm antibiotic use, especially in emerging markets! But based on how quickly things have changed in the past two to five years, I think we’ve got reasons to be positive.

At the moment it feels like investors and parts of the food industry are driving this movement, helped by consumer demand, rather than multinational organisations or governments taking a lead.

At the moment it feels like investors and parts of the food industry are driving this movement, helped by consumer demand, rather than multinational organisations or governments taking a lead.

This is concerning given that protein consumption is set to rise. As things are becoming better in the food sector in the US or Europe, so they are becoming worse in emerging economies like China or Brazil.

Some of the work that we’re doing at the Jeremy Coller Foundation will help with this because we are working with large multinational organisations, but it’s only part of the puzzle. I don’t know what it will look like exactly, but we need multinational, united, global action if we’re to have any meaningful impact.

SustainAbility is exploring the role of the food system and antimicrobial resistance. If your organisation is interested in finding out more and how to get involved, please contact Rosie at powell-tuck@sustainability.com.

About the author

Rosie Powell-Tuck
Rosie Powell-Tuck

Rosie recently joined SustainAbility's London office as an Analyst. She works across a range of sectors, with particular interests in food, energy and biodiversity.

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