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New research tackles antimicrobial resistance through corporate responsibility

A new project contributes to agenda for tackling antimicrobial resistance (AMR) by focusing on the pivotal role of corporate food retailers.

26 March 2019, at 11:41am

The project paper entitled, Corporate food retailers, meat supply chains and the responsibilities of tackling antimicrobial resistance, is the work of researchers, Alex Hughes, Suzanne Hocknell and Emma Roe. With the aim of addressing the responsibility of retailers in tackling the AMR challenge in the context of their chicken and pork supply chains, the study investigated the evolving role of retailers and how this role might be shaped in the future, in the UK and at a global scale.

Globally, there are concerns over the prophylactic use of antimicrobials in livestock industries as antimicrobial resistance grows amongst bacteria such as Salmonella, Campylobacter and E. coli. This has increased the pressure on authorities and producers in the sector to develop and implement stricter standards for antimicrobial use.

Supported by the UK Food Standards Agency, the current project assesses the role of retailers in navigating the AMR challenge through their overseas as well as their national store networks, and through both Northern and Southern supply chains globally.

The objectives of the project are:

  1. to map and model the current AMR challenge involving corporate food retailers through their chicken and pork supply chains;
  2. to evaluate current and evolving corporate retail strategies and standards in the UK for reducing antibiotic use in chicken and pork supply chains;
  3. to consider the role of consumer engagement in raising standards for responsible use of antibiotics in farming; and
  4. to facilitate increased dialogue between corporate food retailers and wider institutional policy and scientific networks in the UK, in order to shape future strategy for tackling AMR.


Four project phases will be conducted over eighteen months and involving both quantitative and qualitative methods that include:

  • the mapping and modelling with trade data of the AMR problem facing UK corporate food retailers in their supply chains;
  • interviews with retailers' food technologists and food standards policy-makers in the UK; and
  • interviews with a sample of UK meat producers.

A project website, a stakeholder report and an end-of-project workshop in London will complement academic publications, in order to communicate the findings of the scoping research to non-academic beneficiaries and to shape evolving strategy regarding corporate food retailers' roles and responsibilities in tackling AMR.


Corporate food retailers

In the UK the leading corporate food retailers -Tesco, Sainsbury, Asda, Morrison's, the Co-operative, Aldi, Waitrose, Lidl, Marks and Spencer and Iceland - will gain a more comprehensive understanding of the scale of the AMR problem affecting, and affected by, their supply chains. They will also learn about best practice antibiotic stewardship in meat production and the role they can play in supporting this through the management of their supply chains. The project will also help these retailers to formulate strategies for communication of AMR issues to consumers at a time when AMR is fast becoming a major public health issue.

Producers and the trade associations representing them (in particular, in the poultry and pork sectors)

By articulating the standards and challenges of antibiotic stewardship, meat producers and their trade associations (The British Poultry Council and the National Pig Association) can also gain by shaping retailers' developing strategies on AMR in ways that are sensitive to the practical challenges they face.

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Government departments with responsibility for antimicrobial stewardship, including their scientific advisors

Department of Health, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Veterinary Medicines Directorate will benefit from an inclusion of influential corporate retailers more centrally into AMR policies that cover areas of their remit. The UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA) will particularly benefit in terms of the support that our research and workshops will provide for their policy leadership on AMR issues at a global scale. Engaging the retail sector in the topic of AMR is a key priority for the FSA through debate on how new technologies and new understanding of the potential flows and reservoirs of AMR can be addressed through governance of the food retail industry. The project will support the FSA in framing AMR-related policy work in the UK, and will support its role in leading and hosting a physical working group for the Global Food Standard body, Codex Alimentarius. That group aims to shape international standards for the use of antimicrobials and the monitoring of their use

In the longer-term, the general public will also benefit, as consumers of meat products and for whom AMR presents a significant health threat.