Founder and Chair, Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return (FAIRR)
Blame for antibiotic overuse is usually laid on doctors writing unnecessary prescriptions or patients failing to follow instructions. Little attention has been paid to the world’s single biggest consumer of these vital drugs: intensive animal agriculture.
Every year, billions of cows, pigs and poultry are routinely injected with the same antibiotics on which human health relies. In some countries, 80% of antibiotics are sold for use in animals — not to treat disease, but to promote growth and prevent the outbreaks that inevitably occur when large numbers of livestock are packed closely together.
Why antibiotic use in agriculture is a risk
Over-using antibiotics in this way makes them less effective against deadly infections in humans and animals alike. That’s not all. There’s also an environmental danger in the runoff from farms with antibiotic-contaminated manure. Concerns have been raised about dosed-up meat fuelling obesity in humans. There’s a particular risk facing often low-paid farm and meat processing workers, given their proximity to animals and meat potentially infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
It all adds up to a huge unnecessary risk to human health. With the global economic costs associated with antimicrobial resistance likely to reach $100 trillion by 2050, it also represents a material financial risk to investors’ portfolios, which are often exposed to the leading global protein producers.
In some countries, 80% of antibiotics are sold for use in animals — not to treat disease, but to promote growth and prevent the outbreaks
A better approach to antibiotic use
At FAIRR, an investor network representing more than 400 investors and more than $70 trillion of assets under management, we provide the data that allows investors to make informed decisions on AMR risk. We’re filling the knowledge gap for investors, highlighting the AMR risks involved in intensive animal agriculture and facilitating dialogue between companies and investors.
We support an evidence-based holistic approach to tackling AMR — not wholesale banning the use of drugs but encouraging proper animal husbandry and reserving antibiotics only for treating sick animals.
This change won’t happen by itself. All the players in the global food system and across the supply chain — from food manufacturers to pharmaceutical companies and farmers to supermarkets and fast food restaurants — need to come together to put good antibiotic practices in place. At FAIRR, we understand that institutional investors as shareholders in all these companies can drive real change. AMR is a very real risk to our health, but it is also a financial risk to our economy; it’s time for the biggest users of antibiotics to clean up their act.