Corporate food retailers, meat supply chains and the responsibilities of tackling antimicrobial resistance (AMR)

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: Geography Politics and Sociology


This project makes a path-breaking contribution to the agenda for tackling antimicrobial resistance (AMR) by focusing scoping research and significant networking events on a link that has so far been missing from academic and policy debate - the pivotal role of corporate food retailers. The aim of the project is to address the responsibility of retailers in tackling the AMR challenge in the context of their chicken and pork supply chains, and to investigate this evolving role and how it might be shaped in the future, in the UK and at a global scale. Against a backdrop of decades of intensive farming of animals involving the use of antibiotics, it is becoming clearer that while antimicrobials are a necessary tool to maintain health and welfare on the farm, the key issue is their inappropriate and disproportionate use in animals thereby reducing availability for humans. There is food industry-wide concern that this is leading to growing resistance amongst certain bacteria such as Salmonella, Campylobacter and E-coli, placing pressure on the sector to develop and implement standards for more responsible use.

Supermarket chains are a key set of actors strategically positioned to address the global challenge of reducing antibiotic use in food supply chains and raising consumer awareness as part of tackling AMR. The project will address the role of retailers in navigating the AMR challenge through their overseas as well as their national store networks, and through supply chains that flow through spaces of the global South as well as the North. Specifically, the project addresses this role by proposing scoping research and dissemination events in the UK, where policy leadership is acknowledged and where corporate retail power is well-established. Driving the momentum of the project's policy engagement will be the support of the UK government's Food Standards Agency (FSA) as a Project Partner facilitating both a pre-project scoping workshop and a dissemination workshop at the end of the research. This reflects close alignment between the project's objectives and the emerging priorities of the FSA.

The objectives of the project are: (i) to map and model the current AMR challenge involving corporate food retailers through their chicken and pork supply chains; (ii) to evaluate current and evolving corporate retail strategies and standards in the UK for reducing antibiotic use in chicken and pork supply chains; (iii) to consider the role of consumer engagement in raising standards for responsible use of antibiotics in farming; and (iv) 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. These objectives will be met through four project phases 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.

Planned Impact

The aim of the project is to address the responsibility of corporate food retailers in tackling the agricultural dimensions of the antimicrobial resistance (AMR) challenge in the context of their meat supply chains, and to investigate how this role might evolve in the future in the UK. The key groups of beneficiaries are: (i) corporate food retailers; (ii) producers and the trade associations representing them (in particular, in the poultry and pork sectors); (iii) government departments with responsibility for antimicrobial stewardship, including their scientific advisors; and in the longer-term (iv) the general public as consumers of meat products and for whom AMR presents a significant health threat.

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. 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. And in terms of UK government departments, the 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. Our 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.


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Description Project partnership with Food Standards Agency on this grant. 
Organisation Food Standards Agency (FSA)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Our project team is running and executing the research project on AMR in meat supply chains.
Collaborator Contribution Food Standards Agecy is serving on project advisory board, advising on the mapping and modelling work package and is providing networks for the the end of project disseminaiton workship planned for Autumn 2018.
Impact The research project tea and Food Standards Agency together ran a workshop on food retailers and tackling AMR held at the FSA on 25th November 2016 and this was a forerunner to this ESRC research.
Start Year 2017
Description Workshop on the role of UK corporate supermarket chains intackling AMR held at the FSA 25th November 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact The meeting, held on 25 November 2016, was a NAMRIP workshop organised jointly by the Universities of Southampton and Newcastle and the Food Standards Agency.

The workshop was sponsored by the FSA, NAMRIP, ESRC and EPSRC. NAMRIP member, Professor Michelle Lowe, chaired session 1: 'Setting the scene' and Professor Guy Poppy, who is the UK government CSO for food security at the FSA kicked off the proceedings with his talk: 'The AMR Challenge and the UK's lead role in the international response'. NAMRIP Chair, Professor Tim Leighton FRS, FEng (Southampton) followed with an introduction to: 'NAMRIP - Southampton's pioneering cross-disciplinary network response to the global challenge of AMR - objectives, structure, achievements and future directions'.
fsaHead of Policy at the FSA, Steve Wearne

Then Dr Alex Hughes (Newcastle) with Neil Wrigley FBA (Southampton) spoke on: 'AMR and global supply chains- how can we structure research on this under-studied issue?'. Dr Ana Mateus (Royal Veterinary College) spoke on 'A systematic review of AMR in food at the point of retail - launching the new FSA sponsored review' and then there were questions from the floor followed by coffee and networking. Session 2, Chaired by Dr Alex Hughes, addressed the question of what is known about the challenge of AMR in UK supply chains and how retailers are responding to the challenge. Delegates heard presentations from Peter Dawson (Dairy UK), Zoe Davies (National Pig Association), Máire Burnett (British Poultry Council) and Una McCarthy (Marine Scotland). By now there was a lively Twitter response (#AMRfood) and after a Q & A it was time for lunch.
fsa buildingTim Leighton, Alex Hughes and Mary Houston, after the meeting at FSA

Session 3 addressed: 'Assessing and reducing the risk of AMR in food supply chains' with a range of talks: Marc Dumont (Southampton), 'The microbiological risk of AMR in the food supply chain'; Tom Cherrett (Southampton), 'Reducing the risk of AMR with innovation in the area of food transport logistics'; Tim Leighton (Southampton), 'How engineering can innovate for infection prevention to reduce risk of AMR via cleaning technology'; and Kristen Reyher (Bristol),'How can auditing supply chains address the responsible use of antibiotics?'

Steve Wearne, Head of Policy at the Food Standards Agency gave the final talk of the day, which asked: 'What is best practice for addressing AMR in food supply chains? How can food retailers support this?'

The meeting ended with a networking session over cups of tea.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016