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Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics calls on Government to strengthen school & hospital food standards

12th Oct 2023 - 09:53
Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics calls on Government to strengthen school & hospital food standards
Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics (ASOA) has called for robust Government standards on public procurement to ensure higher antibiotic standards for school and hospital food suppliers.

The report found that inadequate Government buying standards for food and catering as well as weak or non-existent antibiotic policies from ten UK contract caterers are failing to control antibiotic use in the production of meat, dairy, fish and eggs served in schools, universities, colleges and healthcare establishments.

The report says 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?’ claims that catering companies are failing to guard against antibiotic overuse in their supply chains.

According to the report five companies including Apetito, ISS, Newrest, OCS, and WSH, have no publicly available antibiotic policy. The other five companies, 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 any data on antibiotic use in their supply chains.

The companies surveyed supply food to NHS hospitals, schools, colleges and universities, and to Government departments and the military. Some also supply staff canteens or high-street brands like Costa, Subway and M&S.

The key findings of the report are:

  • None of the companies collect any data on antibiotic use in their supply chain.
  • Just three catering companies, Aramark, CH&CO and Compass Group, state in their antibiotic policy that they intend to end routine preventative antibiotic use, and only CH&CO declares that this will be achieved by 2024.
  • Elior is the only catering company whose policy restricts the use of antibiotics that the World Health Organization has classified as “highest-priority critically important in human medicine.”
  • One of the companies, ISS, recently secured a catering contract with Defra (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), despite having no antibiotic policy.

The ASOA has also concluded that Government Buying Standards for food and catering services, which establish minimum standards for catering in public-sector organisations, also make no mention of the need for responsible antibiotic use.

Cóilín Nunan from the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics 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.

“All caterers should source food produced without routine antibiotic use and make more effort to source animal foods from farming systems that have higher levels of animal health and welfare. The Government needs to introduce antibiotic standards for public procurement urgently, backed up by effective monitoring and enforcement.

“The Government says that it aims to deliver higher quality meals to hospitals and schools, but unless it takes action on antibiotic use, it will be failing to protect the health of patients and children.”

British farm antibiotic use has been reduced by 55% since 2014, following voluntary action by farmers, vets and supermarkets.

Consultant Microbiologist Dr Giuditta Sanna added: “The catering companies that provide NHS and school meals are doing such a poor job of controlling antibiotic use in their supply chains. They should not be permitting routine antibiotic use in food-producing animals, just to compensate for the unhygienic conditions in which many of these animals are kept.”

Written by
Edward Waddell