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

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: Sch of Geog, 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 The project was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as part of a UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Cross Council Initiative on 'Tackling Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR)'. Our project is a Pump Priming study funded as part of Theme 4: 'Tackling AMR beyond the Healthcare Setting'. The aim of the project was 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, both in the UK and also extending to the global scale. This research is significant in light of the O'Neill (2016) report on Tackling Drug-Resistant Infections Globally, the Government Response to the Review of Antimicrobial Resistance (HM Government, 2016) and subsequent roles played by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in taking forward their recommendations regarding the setting of targets for the reduction of antibiotic use, support for antimicrobial stewardship in the food system and the development of codes and standards for addressing AMR in the food system at both national and global levels. The O'Neill Report (2016: 29) calls for "producers, retailers and regulators to agree standards for 'responsible use'. These standards could then be developed and implemented as an internationally recognised label, or used by existing certification bodies."
In food supply systems, as in human health, the focus of AMR policy has been on the use and stewardship of antibiotics in general, and Critically Important Antimicrobials (CIAs) in particular. Stewardship is significantly more complex than a reduction in antibiotic use and attention has been paid to stewardship related to good animal husbandry. Indeed, within the food industry antibiotic drugs remain important tools to support farm animal health and welfare, and the safety of foodstuffs.
The research finds that AMR is being framed less as a food safety issue and more as a public health concern, cutting across multiple areas of policy and practice. Collaboration and pre-competitive agreements have been vital to the success of meeting antibiotic reduction targets in domestic production ahead of schedule. Next steps for food retailers and other actors in the food system include consideration of AMR beyond the sphere of domestic on-farm production of fresh food to tackle AMR as it presents in associated environmental reservoirs (water bodies, soils), in processed foods and through international food supply chains.
Key Findings:
• The greatest strides in the UK have been made in reducing antibiotic use in domestically produced, fresh meat. Meeting targets recommended by the O'Neill (2016) report, committed to by DEFRA and supported by the FSA, two years ahead of schedule without impacting on animal health, welfare or productivity is a significant achievement.
• Central to the success of antimicrobial stewardship programmes in the poultry and pork sectors to date has been the treatment of AMR as a pre-competitive issue. Moreover, the collection and analysis of large datasets concerning on-farm antibiotic use and the execution of antimicrobial stewardship programmes have been managed effectively through food supply chain coordination, partnership and corporate responsibility, and via investment in training and infrastructure.
• Consumers have limited knowledge of AMR. Consumers are also already overwhelmed by the volume of conflicting information they are bombarded with around food and health.
• Whilst the monitoring and recording of antibiotic use in domestically-sourced fresh meat products to address the challenge of AMR is becoming more rigorous, robust and transparent, calculation by UK retailers and processors of AMR risk associated with imported and processed meat products is at a much earlier stage of development.
• Environmental reservoirs, human-food pathways through handling foodstuffs and food animals (alive/dead) barely featured in discussion with the retail sector.
• Combining publicly available trade and AMR risk data, the project demonstrates the potential use of maps in depicting AMR risk in international meat supply chains. The maps illustrate what might be achievable if granular data were available to industry practitioners.
Exploitation Route Key Recommendations:
• Effective work has been conducted across food supply chains, including but not limited to Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA), the British Poultry Council (BPC), the National Pig Association (NPA), Red Tractor and the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), in rolling out platforms, guidance and training enabling data collection on antibiotic use. It would be useful going forward if the same platforms could be standardized to allow more research into any patterns that are emerging.
• Data collection on antibiotic use needs to be comprehensive, collaborative, standardized and shared, whilst remaining pre-competitive. Companies should be able to use such data for their own benchmarking, and data can be anonymized and not made publicly available.
• Dialogue is needed as the UK moves to a post-CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) landscape regarding priorities for farm investment in the context of AMR.
• AMR raises important questions about public health, local practices and global connectivity, animal welfare, and household budgeting. At school level, AMR is potentially a productive lens to cut across disciplines such as geography and biology, but also food technology and citizenship classes in order to address public awareness through education.
• Mapping AMR risk is likely to become particularly important, as the FSA highlights (Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food, 2018), in the context of Brexit and should therefore be explored further.
• Routes of AMR transmission beyond the food itself represent important areas for future attention. Pathogens resistant to antimicrobials, resistance genes and antimicrobial residues can travel and persist in soil, in water, and through direct contact with people including farmers, farm labourers, and abattoir workers. These routes require further research to inform evolving codes and standards for antimicrobial stewardship in food systems.
• It is important for Codex Alimentarius Guidelines for Integrated Monitoring and Surveillance of Foodborne Antimicrobial Resistance, into which the FSA is crucially feeding, to address environmental reservoirs and internationally-sourced processed, as well as fresh, foods. These pathways are structured by the architectures of the global food system, coordinated in part by retailers and processors.
• Scientific research on AMR in food should be conducted in collaboration with social scientific study of the organizational geographies of food supply chains. These global supply chains cross borders of national and regional regulatory systems. For antimicrobial stewardship to be implemented effectively, it is vital to grasp how responsibility is, and can be, practiced through border-crossing commercial realms.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice,Retail

Description The report from the project has been circulated and presented widely at three (four including the original Food Standards Agency conference we organised as a forerunner to the project) non-academic events listed under the 'Engagement' section of this return to Researchfish. This included the end-of-project workshop in November 2018, including the corporate retailers, industry bodies, government departments and consultancies included in the research as interviewees. That workshop included the formal presentation of our findings (summarised in the other narrative impact sections) and also panel and discussion sessions. The objective was to enable the food retailers, and organisations working with them, to understand what enabled the successful achievement of meeting antibiotic reduction targets ahead of schedule and to push them to consider initiatives to tackle antimicrobial resistance (AMR) beyond antimicrobial stewardship at the point of production in their domestic UK supply chains (e.g. looking to address AMR risk in international supply chains, in processed food and through environmental reservoirs). The workshop, and the presentation in Manchester in November 2019, succeeded in improving that understanding in the sector and in challenging the industry and retailers to consider those more ambitious strategies. Participants at both events commented on the usefulness of the presentations, report and discussion sessions in doing that. Our team has not had follow-up funding to trace any material impacts of these ESRC funded Pathways to Impact, which centred more on engagement and knowledge exchange. The PI (Hughes) and Co-I (Hughes) also presented the project report and findings at a side event of the African Regional Committee of the UN's Codex Alimentarius (on global food standards) in Nairobi in September 2019. The audience consisted of government departments responsible for agriculture and health. The impact there was essentially to share the story of UK achievements in antimicrobial stewardship in agriculture and to open discussion of initiatives to consider the importance of tacking AMR in international and processed food supply chains, as well as the challenge of reducing antibiotic use in more weakly regulated sectors. Again, the emphasis was on improving knowledge, sharing best practice and developing contacts and networks for the new, linked AHRC-GCRF project on tackling AMR in the poultry sectors of Kenya and Malawi. The partnerships with government departments in Kenya and Malawi for that project are strong, and so we anticipate more impact to come from both related projects.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Retail
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description Changing Food Systems in Kenya and Malawi and the Challenge of Tackling Antimicrobial Resistance
Amount £188,793 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/T004207/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 12/2019 
End 12/2021
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 End of project workshop on 'Corporate Food Retailers, Meat Supply Chains, and the Responsibilities of Tackling AMR', London 19th November 2018. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Monday 19th November, 9.30am-4pm, Council Room, British Academy, 10-11 Carlton House Terrace, Charing Cross, London, SW1Y 5AH

Audience of just under 50 delegates.



Fraser Broadfoot: Antibiotic Usage Project Lead at the Veterinary Medicines Directorate.

Alex Hughes: Professor of Economic Geography, Newcastle University.
Emma Roe: Associate Professor in Human Geography, University of Southampton; Honorary Research Associate at the School of Veterinary Science, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Bristol.
Suzanne Hocknell: Research Associate in Geography, Newcastle University.

Chris Brown: Senior Director Sustainable Business, ASDA.
Máire Burnett: Technical Director, British Poultry Council.
Georgina Crayford: Senior Policy Adviser, National Pig Association (NPA).
Daniel Parker: Fellow of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons; RUMA Independent Scientific Group member.

Rosa Peran: Chair of the working group of the Task Force AMR of Codex Alimentarius; Seconded National Expert at European Medicines Agency.

12.30 LUNCH


Ali Aitchison: Technical Manager for Food Safety, Morrisons.
Jeremy Brice: Research Officer for Centre of Analysis for Risk and Regulation, London School of Economics.
Mark Fielder: Professor of Medical Microbiology, Kingston University; RUMA Independent Scientific Group member.
Martin Smith: Lead Veterinarian, Tulip Ltd; RUMA Independent Scientific Group member.

Bill Keevil: Chair in Environmental Healthcare within Biological Sciences, University of Southampton; Network for Anti-Microbial Resistance and Infection Prevention (NAMRIP) member.
Ruth Layton: Group Sustainability Director, Benchmark Holdings.
Tim Leighton: Professor in Engineering, University of Southampton; NAMRIP member.

Steve Wearne: Director of Policy & Science Group, Food Standards Agency; Vice-Chair of the Codex Alimentarius Commission.

Some of the key points from throughout the day:
• AMR is a current threat, not a future one, and we must continue to work together to act now. However, it should be understood as a public health problem (rather than food safety).
• Despite the threat level, there is a lack of understanding about AMR, and we do not fully understand transmission in either quantitative or qualitative terms.
• AMR represents a global threat, and therefore must be addressed with an international response where each actor and sector thinks about what they can actually do
• The UK is a positive role model in tackling AMR and does well in international benchmarking. Its stewardship approach has resulted in a 40% drop of antibiotic animals since 2012, while although 80-90% of antibiotic is for food production globally, in UK only 30% is.
• • Questions remain as to how we use data collected, whether it is shared, who with and why. However, there appears to be a consensus that standardisation and harmonisation of data collection is useful.

4.00 CLOSE.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Presentation made to Africa Regional Committee of UN's Codex Alimentarius, 1st September 2019, of ESRC project report on 'Corporate food retailers, meat supply chains and the antimicrobial resistance challenge'. 30 delegates attended and questions and comments afterwards set up contacts for the new, related AHRC/GCRF project recorded as linked to this award.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation made at non-academic industry and practitioner event on Antibiotic Stewardship in Animal Health and Food, Manchester, November 2019, of ESRC project report on 'Corporate food retailers, meat supply chains and the antimicrobial resistance challenge'
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
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