Alliance calls for government to introduce antibiotic standards for public procurement “urgently”, backed up by effective monitoring and enforcement
A report by the Alliance to Save our Antibiotics has found that inadequate Government Buying Standards for Food and Catering, and weak or non-existent antibiotic policies from the UK’s ten leading catering companies, are failing to control antibiotic use in the production of meat, dairy, fish and eggs served in many schools, universities, colleges, and healthcare establishments.
Antibiotic resistance is a growing global problem, caused by the overuse of antibiotics in humans and animals. Each year about 7,600 deaths in the UK and 1.27 million worldwide are caused by antibiotic resistance.
The report ‘Catering companies – feeding the antibiotic crisis?’ asserts that catering companies are failing to guard against antibiotic overuse in their supply chains. It states that five companies – apetito, ISS, Newrest, OCS, and WSH – have no publicly available antibiotic policy, while five others – Aramark, CH&CO, Compass Group, Elior and Sodexo – do have antibiotic policies, but none of them currently prohibit the routine use of antibiotics or collect data on antibiotic use in their supply chains.
Dr Ron Daniels, Intensive Care Consultant and Founder of the UK Sepsis Trust said: "Sepsis already claims more lives worldwide than cancer: if we can't treat simple infections because of antibiotic resistance then tens of millions more people will die each year, meaning that antibiotic resistance is a more immediate threat to our species than climate change.” He added that addressing this demands action from “all stakeholders.”
The Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics is made up of 71 supporting members, representing over 500 EU organisations. Cóilín Nunan of the Alliance said: “We know that resistant bacteria can be transmitted to people on food, so there is really no excuse for catering companies having such poor policies.
Compass Group disagrees with the representation of its work in the Alliance’s report, stating that the information is sourced only from publicly available information on its website and ignores its Sourcing Standards, which go further.
A spokesperson for Compass Group UK & Ireland says, “Our Animal Welfare Policy requires that the routine prophylactic use of antibiotics must be avoided. Our ambition is to ban the routine use of antibiotics and we will work with our suppliers of fresh meat, dairy, fish and eggs to achieve this.” The organisation also states that it has ‘significantly increased’ the collection of data on antibiotic usage in its supply chain for fresh meat, dairy, eggs and fish.
Sodexo meanwhile stated that its animal product suppliers are required to adhere to the organisation’s Animal Welfare Supplier Charter. A Sodexo spokesperson said: “The Charter states the use of antibiotics should not be routine and, where used, each usage recorded. It also states [that] an antibiotic reduction plan should be implemented.”
“Antibiotic use in food-producing animals has reduced by 55% since 2014…along with an 83% decrease in the use of antibiotics most critical for human use.”
Government Buying Standards for Food and Catering Services, which establish minimum standards for catering in public-sector organisations, don’t reference the need for responsible antibiotic use. Nunan says that the government “needs to introduce antibiotic standards for public procurement urgently, backed up by effective monitoring and enforcement.”
A Defra spokesperson said: “We do not support the routine or predictable use of antibiotics, particularly where they are used to compensate for inadequate farming practices.”
They added: “Antibiotic use in food-producing animals has reduced by 55% since 2014 through the UK’s voluntary, collaborative approach, along with an 83% decrease in the use of antibiotics most critical for human use over the same period.”
Last summer, the government consulted on options to update standards in public sector food procurement, and will publish the consultation findings, alongside updated standards and guidance, later this year.
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