Businesses 'concerned' about antibiotics in food supply chains

14 September 2018

Two-thirds of businesses are worried about antibiotics in their food supply chain, but many do not have a “deep understanding” of the issue, research has found.

More than three-quarters are experiencing increased external pressure from stakeholders to tackle the issue, according to a Trade Interchange report, Anticipating change: antibiotics in the food and drink supply chain.

The report, based on a survey of 225 people responsible for managing food and drink suppliers, found that 67% of businesses were “concerned” about use of antibiotics by their food suppliers, while the same amount were worried that Brexit would have an “adverse effect” on visibility in the supply chain.

The UK voted in 2016 in favour of banning mass medication with antibiotics for groups of animals where no disease had been diagnosed, but the upcoming split from the EU is “casting doubt on the issue”, the report said.

The report also said that there was a “low awareness of the problems around antibiotics in their food and drink supply chain”. More than one-third of respondents (37%) “don’t currently include antibiotics in their supply chain monitoring” and more than one-fifth (21%) did not know whether they did, it said.

Trade Interchange, a management solutions provider in the foodservice industry, said that a deep understanding of the problem is “not apparent”. Only 40% of respondents had “some idea” about the issue, while 15% were “not clear at all”.

The research comes against a backdrop of global concern around antibiotic use leading to greater resistance in humans. In 2015, the US National Academy of Sciences projected that worldwide antimicrobial consumption would increase by 67% by 2030, and nearly double in Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa.

“This rise is likely to be driven by the growth in consumer demand for livestock products in middle-income countries and a shift to large-scale farms where antimicrobials are used routinely,” it said.

Even in Europe, more than 25,000 people die each year from diseases that are resistant to antibiotics, according to the European Commission.

Mike Edmunds, managing director of Trade Interchange, said increasingly complex supply chains were making it “ever more challenging” to trace products from source to plate.

Some businesses in the food and drink industry were being left “struggling to manage all the information that consumers are calling for”, he said.

“Consumers want to know that the product they are being served has been sourced responsibly, and that their health won’t be adversely affected by the supply chain it comes from,” he added.

“When it comes to excessive antibiotic use in the food and drink supply chain, awareness is only going to grow as the impact is felt in antibiotic resistance and human health.”

Earlier this year,  Marks and Spencer, Waitrose and Asda all revealed the quantities of antibiotics used by farms in their supply chain, after mounting pressure for transparency from campaign groups.

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